The enterprise of small, independent Spanish labels continues to put certain of the major players to shame. Here we have a CD from tiny Produccions Blau in the Balearic Islands which ranks as one of the most intriguing reissues of the year. Foc i Fum ("Fire and Smoke", 1885) is a one-act sainete sarsuela with music by the leading Menorcan composer of the 19th century, Francesc D'Assís Rosselló i Sintes (1828-1898 - known to Menorcans as "Mestre Russó") and the journalist-critic Joan Benejam i Vives (1846-1922). Sung in Catalan, the work is refreshingly different from the familiar genéro chico Spanish masterpieces of its time; like Aria's earlier La Sarsuela Catalana (SL 1024) Foc i Fum gives us a glimpse of a tradition musically simpler and even more direct than its Madrileño big brother.
Foc i Fum centres on an amorous tangle in the Menorcan town of Ciutadella during the festival of Saint John. This gives Rosselló a little needed excuse for local colour, including a catchy final jota played by the banda. The rest of the music is pleasant, technically adept, heavily influenced by Italian rather than Spanish models. There's nothing to frighten the horses, but apart from the Jota perhaps the most memorable numbers are a habanera for the tenor (Josep Quetlas, generally secure if hardly sweet-toned) and a trio led by lyric soprano Juanita Coll, who gives a satisfying performance without ever quite setting the vocal pulse racing. The cast is rounded out in unexpectedly stellar style by international baritone Joan (Juan) Pons. He displays his familiar well-nourished, bronzed tone throughout, but certainly does not upstage his colleagues in vivid interpretative colour.
Conductor Gerard Pérez Busquier directs a scratch band in an appropriately lively, direct performance which puts the work across with a real whiff of the theatre, and if Foc i Fum can hardly be said to change the established pecking order of the genéro chico, it certainly makes a pleasurable change to hear such a rare sarsuela performed with evident care and enthusiasm. The original LP was issued in 1984 by Ciutadella de Menorca to mark Foc i Fum's centenary, and comes up bright and clear (clicks and all) in Antoni Neguera's transfer.
© Christopher Webber