BMG - classic CD transfers
Rejoice! BMG have at length released CD transfers of classic zarzuelas by Luna and Vives. The remasterings are of variable quality, presentation is colourful but skimpy, Spanish only and without libretto texts - but the main point is that these long-cherished recordings are once again available.
It's particularly good to have the two Luna sets. Enrique Navarro's version of El asombro de Damasco has only been around on a dubious CD from Orfeon, so it's a relief that Argenta's beautiful 1950's mono account for Alhambra has finally made it to the official CD catalogue. BMG's transfer is not perfect - there are some irritating clicks in Munguia's offstage muezzin calls, and a lazy failure to join up the original LP side turn in the middle of the Act 1 final - but the mono sound comes across bright and clear. Both Rosado and Ausensi are on top form in the romantic roles, and with strong vocal support from Diaz Martos, Huarte and Monreal (who does not fall into the trap of overdoing Ben-Ibhen's comedy silliness) this is top recommendation, despite some frustrating cuts and bare-bones presentation.
There is no other complete recording of La picara molinera, but Luna's subtle drama of rustic passions is magnificently conveyed in this stirring performance under Cisneros, one of the very finest of the Alhambra series. Berganza and Lorengar are well-contrated as the rivals for the affections of Juan, sung with affecting abandon by Torrano in his best recorded performance. He in turn is opposed by the ill-fated Pintu, sung with ardent machismo by the well-muscled Ausensi. The supporting cast is very good, and Cisneros and his orchestra play the great Intermedio - a Desert Island choice if ever there was one - with rhythmic verve and power. The remastered sound is direct and unsubtle, not so smooth as the old LP set but acceptable enough. The presentation mirrors the cassette tape issue of a few years back, with a brief plot resumé, track and cast listings.
Vives' most ambitious score La villana is seriously in need of a new, really complete recording. Due to the constraints of a two-LP format the Columbia recording from the early 1970's made massive cuts, and for purists the extended highlights that result amount to butchery. However, given the excellent musical standards of what's there, gratitude should outweigh the sense of frustration.
As the faithful Casilda, Caballé gives one of her greatest performances on record. Those stratospheric pianissimi have never sounded so magical, and singing in Spanish she conveys a detailed dramatic involvement not always evident in her Italian opera sets. Sardinero as stalwart husband and Ortiz as aristocratic, would-be seducer are both excellently cast, the latter in particular making good use of his considerable lyric opportunities. Asensio's handling of a score which grows in stature with every hearing is firm and sensitive throughout, and despite its failure to eradicate the brass distortions which marred the thrilling Jota castellana in the LP pressings this smooth 2-CD transfer restores one of the jewels of the recorded repertoire to circulation. Alas, there are no texts or translations - and no synopsis either, though the short essay by Juan Arnau on La villana's place in the Vives canon is well worth reading and there are some photos of the original recording sessions.
© Christopher Webber 2004