Monte Carmelo (Torroba - r.1939)
Pepita Rollán (Esperanza) - Sélica Pérez Carpio (Mamá Dolores)
Eulalia Zazo (Rafaela) - Luis Sagi Vela (Manrique)
Alfredo Muelas (Juan María)
Coros y Gran Orquesta Sinfónica del Teatro Calderón Madrid
c. Federico Moreno Torroba

Homokord HOM10218

Monte Carmelo - vocal score cover First seen in October 1939 Monte Carmelo was one of the first zarzuelas to see the light of day under the Franco regime. The plot is a curious melange demonstrating the power of religion to douse amorous feeling, though librettists Romero and Shaw leaven the load with helpings of local gypsy colour and a comic Marquese. The gitano scenes and much else from Torroba's 3-act comedia lírica, an operetta in all but name, haven't so far made it to disk - nor are they likely to, as Monte Carmelo has seemingly dropped from sight in the regular repertoire.

Luckily the original cast, including Luis Sagi Vela as the romantic and religiose Conte de Monte Carmelo, were preserved in nine numbers under the composer's firm direction. Homokord have reissued these in a good, no-frills transfer - and very enjoyable it all proves, even though Torroba's flame glows more fitfully than in Luisa Fernanda seven years before ... what a world away that must have seemed! At just under 33 minutes, it's a pity Homokord couldn't have come up with some more rare Torroba as makeweight, but that's the only cause for complaint, especially as they do provide a useful synopsis and full song texts.

Sagi Vela is heard at his most suavely gracious in two solo numbers - a song in praise of Granada (where Monte Carmelo is set) decorated with alhambrismo roulades and otherwise pleasant enough; and the memorable "Liga de mujer", a light, witty number in which the Count fantasises over an unknown lady's garter. Marvellous to record that this most distinctively elegant of singers is still with us, at the age of 85. He also has a Pucciniesque duet with reliable tenor Alfredo Muelas, and a sweetly acerbic trio with two sisters played by sopranos Pepita Rollán and Eulalia Zazo.

Rollán sings accurately in her solo number, a fetching habanera; and touchingly in a crucial but lightly sugared dúo with Muelas. The other two vocal numbers feature Sélica Pérez Carpio as the comic Marquese, the first of her many character roles after the Civil War. Her voice had lost some of its sheen, but little of its size, and her Profecías ("predictions") are a comic delight. Best of all is a gossiping trio for the three women, "¡Guarda, guarda, guarda Leonardo!", light, fast, witty and quintessentially Spanish.

Monte Carmelo is certainly not a lost masterwork, but Torroba's music goes well beyond the merely functional. The orchestral Intermedio (track 7) is indeed quietly haunting - six minutes of subtly orchestrated Spanishry, flecked with the composer's very personal touches of mordant intensity. This at least really couldn't be by any other composer, and is very well worth adding to any collection.

© Christopher Webber 2000

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