Harmonia Mundi, France

Jose de Nebra, Arias de Zarzuela

José de Nebra
Arias de zarzuelas
María Bayo (soprano), Al Ayre Español, Eduardo López Banzo (conductor)

José de Nebra: Vendado es amor, no es ciego (1744) – recitado y aria “Hados crueles … El bajel que no recela”, obertura, minué I y II, seguidillas “En amor pastorcillos”, aria de graciosa “De un ojo era falta”, recitado y aria “Ciegue, clame y suspire … ¿Quién fió de un mar sereno”, aria “¿Quién cielos?”. Iphigenia en Tracia (1747) – recitado y aria “Este, riscos incultos … Gozaba el pecho mío”, aria “Vacilante pensamiento”. Donde hay violencia no hay culpa (1744) – seguidillas “Los halagos se mezclan”. Amor aumenta el valor (1728) – Aria “ Como el zéfiro”. Luigi Boccherini: Sinfonia Op.12 No.4 “La Casa del Diavolo” G 506 (1771)

[ Rec. 4-8 December 2005, Sala Mozart Auditorio de Zaragoza ]

HMI 987069 (CD + DVD extra)
[TT= 73:00 (CD), 20:31 (DVD)]

Towards the end of his life Jose de Nebra (1702-1768) turned away from Madrid’s public theatres to write religious works for the Capilla Real. Judging from these jewels, he had no need to repent - not for his musical sins, at least. Three of de Nebra’s four complete surviving zarzuela scores are represented – the fourth is Viento es la dicha de amor, once available complete on Auvidis in a sparkling performance under Christophe Coin – plus an aria from the collaborative opera Amor aumenta el valor; with the lion’s share, over half an hour’s music, coming from the 1744 zarzuela Vendado es amor, no es ciego (“Love is blindfolded, not blind”).

Veteran playwright José de Cañizares provided the composer with a mythological plot in the antique style, centred on the rivalry of Venus, Diana and the nymph Eumene for the love of the Trojan shepherd Anchises, mixing delicate poetic sentiment with low comedy in the classic zarzuela tradition. The range of instrumental and vocal numbers scattered over this CD is exciting, ranging from high-flown amorous passion, self-doubt and despair (the arias for Venus and Eumene) through sophisticated seguidillas (Anchises’ entry song) to the nymph Brújula’s broadly comic aria de gracioso. The Obertura features whooping brass, and some exquisite string and oboe writing in its associated minuets. It’s all vividly characterised by Banzo and his instrumental forces, and whilst María Bayo may not possess quite the unconstrained vocal allure she once did, her ability to characterise remains as subtle as it is varied. The sooner Vendado es amor, no es ciego is revived in its entirety, the better!

Maria Bayo, Eduardo Banzo (Jose de Nebra Arias de Zarzuela)

The pair of arias from Iphigenia en Tracia are no whit inferior. Dircea’s da capo aria “Gozaba el pecho mío” rivals Handel in its confident handling of emotional switchbacks alternating lover’s confidence and jealous vitriol; whilst the sweeping brilliance of Polydore’s “simile” aria of the ship foundering in a storm “Vacilante pensamiento” is at least as impressive. More evidence, if any were needed, that de Nebra is a composer with a sense of theatricality to match his ear for piquant instrumental and harmonic effect. In Banzo, Bayo and the marvellous Al Ayre Español he has found ideal advocates.

My only doubt concerns the somewhat haphazard programming of the vocal and instrumental items, with two chunks of de Nebra bookending Boccherini’s symphonic masterpiece La Casa del Diavolo, a piece which didn’t see the light of day until after the Spanish composer’s death. Don’t get me wrong, it’s given a breathtaking performance, the best I’ve ever heard – the tentative string stalkings of the Andantino are almost uncanny – but in instrumental weight and style Boccherini is light years removed from his operatic colleague, and he does threaten to overshadow him. No matter. With attractively witty presentation, authoritative notes by José Máximo Leza, full texts and translations, plus a substantial DVD bonus of interviews interspersed with live performances of several of the arias performed in concert at Madrid’s Teatro Real, this is a Baroque zarzuela disc to die for.

© Christopher Webber 2007

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