Curro el de
For a composer almost always blessed with success, Francisco Alonso’s Curro el de Lora (1925), now revived thanks to the initiative of the Fundación de la Zarzuela Española, did not enjoy great acclaim in its time. After a Teatro Apolo premiere tentatively received by public and critics the work was forgotten. Yet the composer continued to esteem it greatly, as witness the revisions he made to iron out rough patches, cutting musical numbers and spoken dialogue, and making a vocal score reduction of the resulting new version. Notwithstanding that Alonso considered Curro… the best fruit of his work, it’s hard to be convinced by claims that the Granada composer was trying to convert it into an opera.
The swashbuckling, romantic gypsy-banditry of Tellaeche’s and Góngora’s libretto is endowed with considerable theatrical potential, of which the talented Alonso was able to take advantage, writing singularly developed music with interesting use of recurrent motifs and other unusual compositional resources. Alonso also departs from the traditional zarzuela grande mould of the time, by consciously avoiding the “easy” melodies that he employed (and popularised) in many other works. Altogether, this gives the score greater coherence and unity than most zarzuelas of the time.
Here Juan de Udaeta conducts the final version (slated for publication by ICCMU) but includes, for its interest, one of the cut original numbers, the “curse scene” at the beginning of Act 2. This features the cantaora Esperanza Fernández who embodies the temperamental Angustias, Curro’s mother and a counterweight to the no less impulsive Lola of Elisabete Matos. The charismatic Portuguese soprano takes adequate care of this leading female role; fraught with passion guilt, but perhaps with an excess of histrionics. This same problem afflicts José Julián Frontal’s portrayal of the succulent role of Curro (three highly contrasted romanzas, a duet and two solo scenes requiring highly skilful characterisation); though the Madrid baritone spares no resources to meet the multiple vocal and theatrical demands of the part, there’s a hovering sense of a lack of felt life.
Even in the lighter numbers, such as the two duets between a spirited Ruth Rosique and idiomatic Aurelio Puente or El Ecijano’s romanza (the up and coming Tomeu Bibiloni, done with attractive vocal colour), the performance fails to catch fire, missing the power that conductors such as Lauret, Frühbeck de Burgos or Moreno Buendía brought to their Alonso recordings decades ago. That should not make us fail to acknowledge the Orquesta Sinfónica de RTVE which responds flexibly to Udaeta’s richly nuanced direction, or the choruses which fill out the solemnity and grandeur of the massive final scene, a tour de force musically and dramatically. Despite its stylistic limitations and the somewhat shrill recorded sound, we have here the most important zarzuela recording of the last twenty years.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2008
4 April 2008