Duos de zarzuela (Sanchez and Montiel) RTVE 65266

Dúos de zarzuela
Ana María Sanchez (soprano¹); María José Montiel (mezzo-soprano²) Orquesta Sinfónica y Coro³ de RTVE, c. Enrique García Asensio

RTVE Música 65266
(Notes and texts included)

Caballero: Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant (Ketty y Soledad); Barbieri: El barberillo de Lavapiés (Marquesita y paloma); Usandizaga: Las golondrinas (Romanza de Lina¹); Penella: Don Gil de Alcalá (Habanera¹²³); Serrano: Las Hilanderas (Condesa y Camarista); Luna: El niño judío (Canción espanola²); Vives: La veda del amor (Malvina y Guillermina); Caballero: La viejecita (Luisa y Carlos); Chapí: La tempestad (Roberto y Ángela); Bretón: El domingo de Ramos (Rafael y Cándida¹²³); Alonso: La calesera (Maravillas y Elena); Guerrero: Los gavilanes (Adriana y Rosaura); Caballero: El dúo de La Africana (Romanza de La Antonelli²³); Sorozábal: Don Manolito (Romanza de Margot¹); Serrano: El mal de amores (Amapola y Mariquilla)

Rec. Teatro Monumental de Madrid 24-28 July 2006

In zarzuela as in opera the two-soprano number is a rarity, but this imaginatively planned programme shows that lack of numerical depth doesn’t mean lack of strength. Dúo after dúo hits the spot, and the range is as impressive as the quality. From Caballero’s elegant Anglo-Spanish contest in Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant, through Penella’s melting habanera to Chapí’s barcarolle (one of several “breeches” love-dúos), the subtlety of situations and emotions makes for constant pleasure. Variety is the spice of galas, but whereas in a solo recital the spice often a scattering of orchestral intermedios and preludios, here we are treated to a brace each of solo items from two mighty singers.

Both are familiar, and now beloved, staples of Spain’s healthy vocal culture. Sánchez’s ample voice is breathtaking live in the theatre, and though it doesn’t adjust easily to microphonic restraint the RTVE engineers have done a good job in getting its very personal combination of grainy liquidity and laser-purity across. Montiel’s Rolls-Royce mezzo, rich and even, presents fewer technical taming problems. Her “De España vengo” is impressive, without quite capturing the sunny ease of Monserrat Caballé’s classic 1974 Decca version. Ease is what’s missing too from Sánchez’s over-powerful assay of Lina’s love-musings from Las golondrinas, too much like watching a war charger doing dressage.

This lack of ease carries over into some of the dúos. The voices certainly blend surprisingly well, and in the more romantic situations – notably the La tempestad barcarolle and that other, intensely sensual “breeches” love scene from La viejecita – the results are very satisfying. But where contrast and character are called for, as in the touching mother/daughter scene from Los gavilanes, the weather can be heavy. Both singers instinctively go full out when less would make for more, and neither has much of a way with words. The recording’s constricted dynamic range, recessed orchestral sound and oddly routine conducting don’t dispel the oppressive air.

There’s much left to admire, not least the inclusion of good notes and Spanish-only texts, vital for the two real rarities which make this disc a must for collectors. Vives’ sweet charms are well represented by the dúo from a virtually unknown 1912 light operetta La veda del amor (“The Ban on Love”). Bretón’s orchestral and harmonic skills, running to an impressionistic fleck of choral colour, are even better showcased in a beautifully distilled dúo from El domingo de Ramos (“Palm Sunday”, 1895) which had the misfortune to emerge between the twin peaks of La verbena... and La Dolores. On this showing the work could well repay revival. The catty exchange from La calesera responds well to the operatic approach, and the fiery gypsy scene from El mal de amores makes for a opulent vocal finish to a disc which doesn’t quite live up to its billing.

© Christopher Webber 2006

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