The sprightly charms of Antoni Ros Marbá's Bohemios are familiar from the 1994 Auvidis CD starring Luis Lima and María Bayo, with the luxury casting of Carlos Álvarez as soloist in the Chorus of Bohemians. That disc is currently hard to find, at least until copyright owners Astree Naïve choose to reissue it. Meanwhile this unfussily directed DVD provides a reasonable stopgap, given the usual pros and cons of live concert performance.
The solo singing is decent, but with one important exception not in the same league as Ros Marbá's CD cast. María José Martos can muster neither the firmness nor sweetness of tone to make little Cossette as endearing as she should be, whilst Ana Sandoval's slimline mezzo Pelagia is almost inaudible at the start of their dúo. Ramón makes a likeably virile Bohemian, and the smaller roles are well taken.
Coming to the principal hombres, Carmelo Cordón's anonymous baritone fails to make bricks from Victor's vocal straw - this is one of those zarzuela roles which only comes alive once we get the dialogue, which here we don't. Now the exception: the Valencian tenor Vicente Ombuena certainly does bring the lead role of Roberto to life. With nicely judged vocal weight and variety, it's a performance which swiftly draws the listener (and viewer) into Vives's honeyed sound world. Little wonder that four years on Ombuena can be found giving Alfredos and Rudolfos in major international houses. Provided he doesn't press too heavily, too soon, this is a singer of whom we should hear much more.
Ros Marbá's tempi are well-judged, and neither orchestral nor choral unanimity can be faulted. The pizzicati for the main theme of the intermedio are perfectly precise, though the cellos and bassoons don't dig deeply enough into the rhythms underpinning the brooding Big Tune which follows to reveal the piece's full emotional range. This is Vives Lite, but there are worse sins than that. The far from packed audience had clearly been exhorted not to applaud between numbers, but eventually, happily, break ranks and do so. As a result, the temperature rises significantly from the "love duet" onwards. And what a tightly symphonic, delectable score this is!
Bohemios is short measure at about 45', but the DVD is padded out with those worthwhile extras associated with the Obras Maestras de la Lírica series - a commentary on individual numbers, plus useful mini-docs on the piece, premiere, and history of zarzuela in addition to the customary biographies. Recommended, for Ros Marbá and the RTVE orchestra's pristine virtues, but most of all for Ombuena's Roberto, most satisfying on disc since ... well, Marcos Redondo's 1930 baritone incarnation is above the battle!
© Christopher Webber, 2004