BLUE MOON SERIE LÍRICA, No.51
Blue Moon could have been forgiven for finishing their invaluable Serie Lírica, devoted to CD reissues of mainly 1930's classic zarzuela and revista recordings, after No.50, a Tomás Bretón disc which seemed to indicate that the well was finally running dry. Not a bit of it! Here, hot on its heels, comes No.51, and in terms of repertoire it proves one of their most intriguing and important releases to date.
The two-act Los flamencos was one of Amadeo Vives' last completed zarzuelas, to a libretto by the great writing duo Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernández Shaw. Though premiered with great success late in 1928 it lacked the staying power of the same team's La Villana from the previous year, let alone their peerless Doña Francisquita (1923). Do its contemporary madrileño plot and light musical style make Los flamencos as frothy as critical opinion judged it to be? That opinion was shared by the composer himself, who described it as "a facile work, popular in style, as a sainete should be. A thing without pretensions." Now, with the reappearance of eight original cast numbers, recorded by the Regal and Gramófono companies early in 1929, we can decide for ourselves.
Populist? Well, yes, compared with La villana. Facile? By no means all of it. That original cast boasted two great stars, mezzo-soprano Sélica Pérez Carpio and tenor Pepe Romeu, both fine actors as well as singers, and their two, sparring dúos find them and their composer in inspired form. The subtle harmonic and structural organisation of the first ("¿A pasao por esta calle?") makes absorbing listening which grows on acquaintance. By contrast, the second ("Mala mujer") is witty, pithy and with one of the most highly memorable tunes even Vives ever wrote. Anyone interested in his music, or in fine vocal acting, should buy the CD for these two tracks alone. Did I say two? I mean three, as this is one of those Blue Moon CDs which needlessly interrupts the flow of the first duet with an original 'side turn' of fully 4 seconds - a philosophy which they do not always adopt, so why here?
The other six numbers are hardly on this level, though all display Vives' superior orchestral and compositional technique, and the singers - who include such stalwarts as soprano Trini Avelli and comic tenor Antonio Palacios - certainly do his material justice. Perhaps most interesting is a waltz number for the chorus of female tiples and an elderly roué, Señor Juan (Jesús Navarro), its powerful, swinging bass line and extended melodic breadth alike typical of the mature composer. It's a pity that an outrageously original Intermedio combining an orchestral evocation of flamenco dance with a Charleston played on a pianola did not, apparently, make it into the studios!
The coupling - Bohemios under Gelabert - is not in the same league, being one of the few disappointments from that first, great tranche of "complete" zarzuela recordings set down in Barcelona during the early 1930's. Tino Folgar's Roberto is not the best advert for his distinctive light tenor, with its quick vibrato and intimate warmth. Here both tuning and technique are under pressure too often for comfort. Elisa de Franco's coloratura Cossette is agile and musical enough, but her light tiple soprano as recorded has an acid edge which gives limited pleasure. The same has to be said for Rafael Díaz's Victor, too insistently comical at the expense of necessary musical line.
Gelabert's backwardly placed orchestra was in uninspired form - one string passage in the Preludio should simply not have passed muster. The Coro de Bohemios, featuring the strong baritone of Enrique Sagi-Barba (brother of the more famous Emilio) fares better, although it's far from rhythmically secure. The famous Intermedio is neatly turned; but altogether this set cannot compare with the roughly contemporary version under Capdevila, featuring Redondo as an effective baritone Roberto and available on an earlier Blue Moon issue (BMCD 7507) or in a richer transfer from Aria (ARIA 1015).
Blue Moon's steely production does little to rescue the murkily reverberant Gramófono recording, or the performance. The earlier Los flamencos sessions sound much clearer, warmer and more immediate, and the addition of full texts and an informative contemporary review of the zarzuela from ABC Magazine (though, alas, no synopsis to tell us more about the characters or the action) makes this one of the most desirable of recent Blue Moon issues, a must-buy for all admirers of that most sophisticated and musically sensitive of zarzueleros, Amadeo Vives. Let's hope this CD proves to be the first of another half-century from this most adventurous Barcelona recording house.
© Christopher Webber 2002