Reviewed by Andrew Lamb
For creators of English-language operettas, as for novelist Anthony Hope, Ruritania is situated somewhere in south-eastern Europe. For Spanish composers Vives and Guerrero in opereta mode it seems to lie somewhere off the coast of France and Belgium. The action of Vivess La Generala moves between Oxford and Cambridge and tells of love between the heir to the exiled King Cirilo of Molavia and the daughter of King Clodomiro of Espartanopia overcoming the reappearance of the Princes first love, a chanteuse who is now the Generals wife of the title.
I got to know this score some forty years ago through the EMI recording, then on an inexpensive Regal LP and since reissued on CD, featuring María Espinalt as a disturbingly shrill and squeaky Generala. Unpleasant as her contribution often was and is, it could not destroy the delights of Vivess score above all, of course, the famous reminiscence duet, Mi dulce sueño de adolescente, between the Prince and the Generals wife.
Just how much that EMI recording needed to be on a cheap label became evident when, years later, I obtained the Zafiro recording in a CD reissue that is now sadly difficult to come by. Not only is that a more complete version, including numbers entirely missing from the EMI, but it features a creamy-toned Ana María Olario in the title role, Elsa del Campo charming as the young Princess, and glory of glories the young Alfredo Kraus as a supremely graceful and lyrical Prince. Kraus especially shapes and phrases the celebrated duet quite ravishingly, with conductor Enrique Estela sensitive to his every nuance. Not for nothing does Christopher Webber, in his Zarzuela Companion, describe Kraus as for many the zarzuela tenor of choice from any era. Count me in!
Now, thanks to BMGs recent CD reissue, I can at last catch up with the old Alhambra recording starring the young Pilar Lorengar. With her distinctive vibrato still under control one can thrill to her supremely agile and crystal-clear soprano in her solo numbers above all the Canción del Arlequin, but also the Canción Escocesa. When it comes to that duet, though, the advantage is rather lost, since Ginés Torrano, like the somewhat nasal Jerónimo Vilardell for EMI, lacks the voice and technique to do the number full justice. BMGs supporting cast of Joaquín Portillo and Mari Carmen Ramirez as the Molavian King and Queen Eva, and Conchita Balparda as an attractively young-sounding Espartantopian Princess Olga, are admirable enough, though, and the recording is again much nearer complete than the EMI. The BMG orchestral contribution is also brighter and more forward, with Odón Alonso directing in sprightly fashion; but there is an unpleasantly hard edge to the sound in this CD transfer.
Of the two versions currently available this BMG reissue is certainly to be preferred - partly for its greater completeness, but particularly for Lorengar rather than Espinalt in the title role. Neither recording, though, is a serious rival to the Zafiro, for which anyone interested should keep eyes wide open.
© Andrew Lamb 2004