La Gran Vía° / El bateo
In the fallow years since the final release in the Auvidis Valois series, there's only been one studio recording of zarzuela's core repertoire - RTVE's La Gran Vía / La revoltosa double bill, featuring Plácido Domingo. Now at last DG pick up the baton, and they should be heartily congratulated for employing such a strong roster of singers and the highest editorial and recording standards. Fringe benefits include illustrated notes, synopses and vocal texts, fully translated into English by Susannah Howe. Best of all, we have the first exhaustively complete recording of that most celebrated of género chico scores, La Gran Vía.
Though Chueca's mould-breaking masterpiece clocks in just ten minutes short of an hour, only a few minutes' worth of vocal vignettes and instrumental links are new to disc. The remaining novelties are old familiars sporting new texts from late in the show's initial run, but all of this makes for an invaluable variorum edition. Specially good to hear are the miniature pair of orchestral pantomimes (Nos. 5A and B) featuring personifications of Oil, Gas, Electricity and an exploding Candle, subtly atmospheric and graphic as good anime music.
Judged coolly as a performance this Gran Vía is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Where's the party? As with Miguel Roa for RTVE tempi are uniformly steady, but Victor Pablo Pérez lacks that maestro's pit-band punch and whiff of greasepaint. His studio-bound caution extends to the chorus and soloists, many of them tasteful to a fault. Comparisons are nearly all in RTVE's favour, though María Bayo points Elíseo's chotis with engaging prissiness and María Rodriguez makes a commanding Doña Virtudes. Bayo seems miscast however in the famous Maidservant's Tango, telling her story clearly but disconcertingly bland beside Milagros Martín for Roa, not to mention the teasing Victoria de los Angeles (EMI solo album) or outrageously sexy Nati Mistral under Frühbeck de Burgos (BMG.)
El bateo comes off considerably better. Pablo Pérez once again favours cautious tempi for Chueca's small but perfectly formed score, but the soloists - notably Bayo's Visita and Manuel Lanza's Wamba - display much more animation than in the main offering. I suppose it's baying for the moon to expect today's performers to get near the likes of Teresa Berganza, Gerardo Monreal and Joaquín Portillo under Cisneros (BMG) for sheer character, but modern precision has its merits. DG's credits also encompass alert choral singing, orchestral neatness, and of course a clean, modern recording which enables us to hear so much more of Chueca's scoring than on that classic Alhambra LP, at least in its current, over-processed BMG CD transfer.
The Spanish/English libretto and José Manuel Pedrosa's exemplary notes make this clear first choice for El bateo; and whilst as a performance the new Gran Vía holds only that exploding candle to the earlier standards under Roa and Frühbeck - both of which include the most important additions to the first night score - its absolute completeness make it de rigeur for collectors. DG are to be applauded for their enterprise, quality presentation and production in what we hope will be but the first of many complete studio zarzuela recordings in their new Fundación Caja Madrid-backed series.
© Christopher Webber 2006
La Gran Vía
/ El bateo