Three CD reissues It's been a vintage year for good zarzuela recordings -
or rather, a good year for vintage recordings. Both Fonotron and Blue
Moon have introduced welcome CD reissues of pre-LP material, and the latest
batch of three disks from Fonotron - on their Homokord label -
includes a deal of fascinating music, notably in a trio of rarely heard
zarzuelas by Alonso and Torroba, conducted by the composers
from the "Golden Age"
The first batch of Homokord's Historia de la
Música Lírica Española issues scored higher for
content than for presentation, with virtually no information about the
recordings or the pieces themselves making it into the CD jewel cases. Spurred
perhaps by the stylish booklets from rivals Blue Moon, Fonotron
have come up trumps this time, outdoing the opposition by providing full
synopses, and almost complete libretti for the vocal numbers. The cases tempt
the eye with reproductions of original covers and evocative cameo photos of
composers, conductors and singers.
Having succumbed, few will
find cause for repentence. Not surprisingly, as most feature the fine
zarzuelists for whom these zarzuelas were written. The most eagerly awaited
(HC006) begins with a tantalisingly brief
selection of numbers from Torroba's famous Maravilla of 1941,
The longer selection on this CD is from a virtually unknown
late zarzuela by Jesus Guridi.
Although it was written in 1951 La Condesa de la Aguja y el Dedal ("The
Threadneedle Countess") is pugnaciously conservative in idiom and unfailingly
fastidious. There is a brilliant comedy quartet which could be straight out
of The Gondoliers, an equally infectious Habanera-terceto and a
witty Couplés. Some of the other numbers - notably a sinewy,
smouldering Intermedio - start well but flag before the finish, but
altogether this is an enjoyable and unexpected coupling.
| with Luis Sagi-Vela and other original
cast members conducted by the composer. Attractive though the other four pieces
from this amorous story about a golden-hearted opera diva are, none quite comes
up to the level of the popular "Amor, vida de mi vida" - though
Sagi-Vela's beautiful performance of that show-stopper alone is worth the price
of the disk.
HC005 the main novelty is an early
recording of another fabled Torroba zarzuela, this time the three-act
Azabache (1932), a gypsy romance set in Granada. The 1943 ten-side set
made room for a curiousity - some comic banter between the composer and his two
librettists about "writing an opera" - which may or may not add to the appeal.
The coupling, the classic 1930 recording of Caballero's La viejecita (The Old
Lady") was coincidentally reissued a few months ago by Blue Moon, more
sensibly yoked with the same composer's Gigantes y cabezudos. Although
this has a soprano (Mercedes Melo) rather than a tenor in the central
"Charley's Aunt" role of Carlos, it remains an essential collector's item,
particularly as neither of the two LP versions is yet to be officially reissued
on CD - BMG, please note!
| The score is atmospheric, if not memorably
melodious, though there is a pasacalle "chorus of the aviators" - rather
more in the straightforward mode of Alonso's La Calesera than is
Torroba's wont - and a good gypsy canción, well turned by
Angelita Durán. Faustino Arregui's rich tenor makes the
most of José's appealing Romanza, and this is altogether
The lilting, sophisticated score is in the
same vein as Caballero's Los sobrinos del Capitan Grant, charming,
witty and theatrically outrageous by turns, and it's hard to imagine it better
played or performed. Comparisons reveal a difference in philosophy between
Homokord and Blue Moon, whose transfer seems less doctored, with
a livelier treble and much more surface noise. Against this, the smoother, more
padded sound of the Homokord is easier to listen to - and comes with
The last of these CD's (HC007) appears as a timely homage to Francisco Alonso, fifty years after his
death in 1948. La zapaterita ("The Shoemaker's Girl") was one of his
last successful zarzuelas, and the original 1941 cast moved straight from the
Teatro Calderon into the studio to make this near-complete recording of their
conductor's costume pastiche.
The cast is led by the elegant Antonio Medio as
Casanova, a performance memorable for graceful charm of vocal finesse, but
honours are shared with Conchita Panadés as the heroine Manola
and Charito Leonís as a lively Maid of Honour. There is a real
whiff of greasepaint behind the whole set, and Alonso's orchestra play the
piece for all it's worth. Unlike the rival BMG cast (1961, with Antonio
Blancas in poor form) Alonso's company succeeds in making the whole add up
to more than the sum of the parts, and the recording is vivid and natural for
| The featherlight story revolves around one of
the Spanish amours of Casanova, and is set in and around Aranjuez a year or two
before the French Revolution. However frothy Mañes' libretto
might be, Alonso's music is
consistently delightful, whether engaged in courtly rococo-antique alla
Massenet, heart-on-sleeve musical-comedy romance, or traditional popular
Two queries - the short orchestral finale is missing (was it
not recorded?) and we are given an alternative jazz-band version of the catchy
"Caballeros en plaza" directly after the original. Where is this from?
It's well worth having, but why not as an encore, as the end of the disk leaves
us somewhat in mid-air, without that finale. This aside, the Homokord
presentation is excellent, with full synopsis, texts, and evocative production
photos, notably of Medio and Panadés in full rococo fig.
these three excellent issues, perhaps this would be the one I would least care
to be without, though I'd not want to be deprived of Sagi-Vela's
Maravilla romanza - or a single note of La viejecita.
Fonotron-Homokord deserve every success with these issues - and may the
next installment in the series follow swiftly.
© Christopher Webber 1999
Homokord Historia de la Música
HC005 - AZABACHE / la VIEJECITA
HC006 - MARAVILLA / la CONDESA de la AGUJA y el DEDAL
HC007 - la
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