Deutsche Grammophon brings to the table in a luxury edition a new recording of El dúo de La africana, a work close to the heart of género chico. The performance was recorded live at Madrid's Teatro Real at the end of December 2003. The cast is led by the brilliant Luis Álvarez, with the workmanlike María Rodriguez and Guillermo Orozco in support.
The set is curiously presented in double disc format: one CD contains the complete zarzuela (music and dialogue) whilst the other includes just the music (free of applause in all numbers except those which close each scene.) This disc includes as appendices the "auditions" that impresario Cherubini granted to four outstanding artists in the New Year's Eve performance. Including the dialogue is something relatively novel in zarzuela recordings; nevertheless the resultant duplication of music is a waste of resources, when CD players today allow us to select which tracks to listen to, and in which order to do it!
The sound is generally good, without annoying distortions or stage noise, although there are some moments when a soloist's voice is lost, being audible only in the distance through the ambient microphones.
The graphic design of the discs is attractive - very far away from the traditional iconography of zarzuela recordings - and is accompanied by a bilingual Spanish/English booklet containing besides the plot synopsis and complete libretto an interesting essay on this zarzuela by Nuria Blanco Álvarez, a specialist on Manuel Fernández Caballero's music.
Congratulations on this initiative, which relies on sponsorship from the Fundación Caja Madrid; we may hope that it's the start of a second series of recordings following the artistically successful collection released on the Auvidis label a decade ago, supported by this same banking foundation.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2005
[Ed. note. This beautifully designed edition is of special value for English-speakers, containing as it does the first published version in our language of the complete text of El dúo de La africana, dialogue as well as musical numbers, all excellently translated by Susannah Howe.]