Frivolous kid-sister of the romantic zarzuela, the Madrid revista (revue) enjoyed nearly as long a history. The first examples date from 1864, the last from the 1960's, and most of the best zarzuela composers and librettists turned their hand to revista at one time or another. Indeed the most popular work in the entire repertoire, La Gran Via, is in reality a revue (or rather "una revista madrileña cómico-lírica-fantástico callejera"!) updated and rewritten by its authors and composers several times during its triumphant 1886 run, to reflect contemporary social and political events.
After 1900 zarzuela's género chico wavered under the seductive charms of Viennese operetta and Italian verismo. The revista stayed closer to her populist roots, with the eternal round of pasodoble, chotis and habanera, supplemented in time with fado from Portugal, samba from Latin America, and that unique madrileño brand of popular song, the Cuplé. Legs may have been more important than legato, but some of the best revistas - La gatita blanca by Giménez and Vives, Las Leandras by Alonso - were soon incorporated into the 'respectable' zarzuela repertoire.
There is a huge mountain of revista shellac to choose from, and Madrid-based Sonifolk have been chipping away at the rockface with their enterprising La Revista Musical Española series for a year or two. Currently they've reached Vol.16, with no sign of the well running dry. Attractively presented though they are, in uniform format with general essay and original cast photos, I confess that some of the earlier volumes strained the musical patience of this well-disposed novice at least. In particular, the chief pleasure of many of the Jacinto Guerrero revistas (Vols. 5 to 12) lies in the skill of the performers on display, rather than musical quality. The first four Volumes, mainly devoted to Francisco Alonso, are more attractive to zarzueleros looking to extend their musical knowledge of her spangled sibling.
Miracles never cease. And like a certain well-known religious celebrity at the Marriage at Cana, Sonifolk seem to have saved the best wine until last. The latest Volumes in the series - 14 through 16 - are something of a breakthrough, the most consistently entertaining in the series so far, with varied programmes of worthwhile music as well as some matchless performances. Let's hope that there are more original cast recordings of this quality to come - Las Leandras with the great Argentinian chanteuse Celia Gámez, perhaps? Sorozábal's Brindisi??
To start with the latest and best, Vol. 16 ... a Gold Star to Sonifolk for coming up with eight numbers from ¡Qué sabes tú!, José Ramos Martín's comedia musical from 1943/4, with music by the prolific and talented Ernesto Rosillo, a heady mixture of jazzy-slick and sweet-sentimental. Highlights include three sensitive romanzas sung by the urbane Luis Sagi Vela, and a juicy dúo in which he is joined by Conchita Panadés. The whole score is fresh as paint. Morelada's for Gran revista (1946) is unremarkable, but with five numbers sung by Celia Gámez the sensual temperature runs high. Four numbers from Las tocas, Alonso's 1936 hit, are at almost the same level as the Maestro's masterpiece Las Leandras, the foxtrot "Las viudas" being especially catchy. A delightful CD is rounded off by two songs from Blanco y negro, Millán's 1920 rarity, sung by no less than the great baritone Emilio Sagi-Barba and his wife Luisa Vela - parents of the still extant Luis.
Vol. 14 is largely devoted to what is probably Alonso's best post-war score, the comedia musical Tres días para quererte (1945). I can't tell you much about the contents of most of their revista series, as Sonifolk - understandably enough - provide neither librettos nor plots. With this one, however, Sonifolk crossover with rival resissuers Blue Moon (7519 - a comparatively muzzy transfer), and so I can say that Francisco Lozano's Tres días ... is a modern Don Juan story, where the hero gets duly reformed by a Good Woman. Alonso's score is in his most lively popular vein, with thumping good tunes and the odd whiff of welcome melancholy to vary proceedings. A couple of numbers, notably the sweeping fox lento "Baño de sol", even reminded me of Kurt Weill's American scores - and that's not meant to damn Alonso with faint praise! Sonifolk round out the CD with more Rosillo, another helping of the smouldering Srta. Gámez, and finally with the rare canción "La regadera" from Lleó's 1907 pasatiempo lírico La alegre trompetería sung by the original performer Srta. Sánchez Giménez.
All in all, these three volumes offer a fair bit more than merely historic or sentimental interest. I wouldn't want to be without any of the Alonso scores, but if forced to choose just one Volume it would have to be No. 16, which is a real treasure trove. Sonifolk are showing a dash and enterprise which some of the megacorps - notably the stricken BMG, sitting Fafner-like on their unreissued pile of 1950's zarzuela classics, would do well to emulate.