Bretón LA VERBENA DE LA
La Verbena is deservedly ranked as one of the jewels in the zarzuela crown. The picture it paints of Madrid street life and summer heats, internal and external, is as vivid, colourful and outrageous as a Goya canvas. Bretón's score is one of the strongest in the entire repertoire - tuneful and elegant certainly, but shot through with sometimes shockingly original touches of naturalism. The Nocturne, say, which presents a disjointed conversation between the night watchman (Baquerizo, deliciously turgid) and two guards, over a night-drenched fabric of sustained strings, almost reminiscent of Nielsen. Even more extraordinary is the Soledad, where desultory café chat and dancing weave in and out of a crude, almost minimalist flamenco song with honky-tonk piano accompaniment. The complexity of the large concerted numbers is also unusual, and handled in masterly fashion. Which isn't to say that the usual ingredients of one-act zarzuela are missing. There are catchy songs, a witty one for the randy old chemist Don Hilarion, the comic of the piece, and of course the famous Habanera ¿Dónde vas con mantón de Manila... ("Where are you going with that Manila shawl?" - proverbial in Spain!) which begins as a duet, inexorably takes in just about everybody, and turns into an exciting climax of musical action.
This is a real ensemble piece, expertly sung throughout and played and conducted with vigour and sophistication. Domingo as a remarkably credible young lover has the lion's share, Bayo and Pierotti match him well as the two main ladies out on the spree. Castejon provides a suitably sordid Don Hilarion, not too gross in his comedy song, whilst Amengual manages to give the whole role of Tia in an unforgettable brandy-soaked throaty growl. The recording is red-blooded to match. Altogether one of the most desirable of this important series of recordings, and a highly recommendable starting point for anyone interested in exploring this repertoire.
© Christopher Webber 1998