Alpha 171

Amor aumenta el valor

José de Nebra

Horacio - Olalla Alemán; Clelia - María Eugenia Boix; Porsena - Marta Infante;  Livio - Agnieszka Grzywacz; Porcia - Soledad Cardoso; Calpurnia - Ana María Otxoa; Mimo - José Pizarro. Los Músicos De Su Alteza;  dir. Luis Antonio González.

Alpha 171 [79:31]
[rec. 11/2009, Iglesia de Santa Isabel de Portugal, Zaragoza]

Nebra only wrote the first act for this opera, commissioned in 1728 for the marriage in Lisbon of Ferdinand VI and Bárbara de Braganza. The work was an espectáculo a la española, consisting of a loa (prologue) three acts and interludes, composed in established seventeenth century practise by “several geniuses” to a text by José de Cañizares (1676-1750), the successful playwright who amongst other things often wrote texts for new compositions sung at the Spanish Royal Chapel.

The music of the other two acts was written by a pair of Italian composers, Giacomo Facco and Filippo Falconi. Both had more experience than the Spaniard, who was it seems in fact taking his first theatrical steps with this work, having previously been limited to the composition of sacred music for the Spanish Royal Chapel. In fact, as Cotarelo states in his Historia de la zarzuela (1934), it was long thought to be the only theatrical work by the Aragonese composer; and most certainly it was the only one he composed for the court, as the remainder of his dramatic output was written for Madrid’s two public theatres, the Cruz and the Príncipe (now Teatro Español).

All that has come down to us is Facco’s music for the loa and the first act, by Nebra. This latter has now been recorded with great skill by the Aragonese group Los Músicos de Su Alteza. According to the short but authoritative notes by their director Luis Antonio González, Facco’s music has been omitted as having no contact with the plot of the opera, and because its “archaic style is … frankly not as rich in resources as Nebra’s”. So we’ve missed nothing important, and what’s more the downside for being able to check out the contrast would have meant putting a second disc in the case. Mind you, Los Músicos de Su Alteza have shown themselves well able to successfully project less interesting or more archaic music than Nebra’s.

As witness the fact – coming to matters interpretative – that the recording of Amor aumenta el valor boasts exquisite phrasing both from orchestra and soloists; and from the latter unfailingly clear diction, even in the case of the only singer (Agnieszka Grzywacz) who does not have Spanish as her mother tongue. All this goes along with the singers’ ability to adapt their emotional expression, from the extremely touching Olalla Alemán in her aria “¡Ay, amor, ay, Clelia mía!” through to the extremely witty José Pizarro.

Talking of him, it’s a controversial decision to change the comedy character from the soprano voice for which all these roles were written, to the tenor. By doing this González varies the score’s (perhaps monotonous) sonic picture, whilst placing the work in the Spanish tradition in which the comedy character was the only one to be sung by a man. However, in the light of Nebra’s other stage works such as Viento es la dicha de Amor, we might perhaps think that the Aragonese Master sought to distance itself from that tradition, since he also dispensed with the near-inevitable comic seguidillas sung by the male clown, either alone or in duet with his female counterpart. The theoretical question remains, but this does not stop us enjoying José Pizarro’s singing as Mimo, with its clean articulation well-integrated into the “head voice” where it needs to be.

I’d like to note, too, the care taken with the recitatives; the real delight in grace notes and dissonances; and above all the absence of the temptation indulged by other directors to abuse the chest voice, or those pseudo-folk effects inherent in music of the Spanish Baroque that so easily slide into habit. It’s necessary to leave these a little to one side, if only to check out how this music sounds without tambourines, castanets and flamenco sighs.

In short the recording is a success which could not have been achieved without the deep knowledge shown by the director and his performers in presenting Nebra’s material. The artistic ease with which they put across their product (even down to the album cover) has not been achieved through mere improvisation in the moment. Good work.

© Gerardo Fernández San Emeterio 2011,
tr. © Christopher Webber 2011

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8 November 2011