Any American or European zarzuelero starved of live performance has cause to be grateful for the work of William Jarvis's Conservatory in Napa, California. Mr Jarvis's professional energy has masterminded the regular stage productions of zarzuela under Daniel Helfgot which have become such a feature of the year's work. Now, with the appearance of this pair of well produced videos (in both American and European formats) of two of the most popular zarzuelas, we can all share in the catching enthusiasm of the live audience's response to the Conservatory's bright performances.
As with the Santa Fe touring zarzuela productions, the solution to the vexed question of translation is solved by a compromise. Spoken dialogue is performed in English, musical numbers in the original Spanish. This works perfectly well in the case of Agua... but not so seamlessly in the more sophisticated Chapí work, where a real drama (albeit one with a light, farcical action - did the librettists know Shakespeare's Merry Wives, I wonder?) is carried forward in a fluid mix of dovetailed spoken and sung passages. The effect here is to distance us from the characters and situations, although the clear and copious subtitling (in English and Spanish translations) certainly helps.
No doubts at all about the musical quality of the performances, scrupulously and imaginatively prepared by Philip J. Bauman. His direction, and the orchestral accompaniments, far outdistance the rough and ready results in the Teatro Calderón videos of the same pieces patchily available from Spain. No compromise here, and some good voices are on display, notably Gisella Monclova, the feisty Pepa in Agua... and powerful Soledad in La revoltosa. Camille Zamora sings Chapí's famous heroine Mari-Pepa touchingly, and her duet with the Felipe of Diego Garcia is a rightful highlight of the set. Zarzuela needs real actor-singers, and on the acting side some performers fall short of full conviction, though as the dialogue has been considerably shortened this is not a terminal drawback. Monclova, and Celia Green's realistically vengeful Gorgonia in La revoltosa set a standard to emulate.
The settings are clever and atmospheric, the productions are tasteful, the choreography well-pointed and not over-intrusive - again pace Teatro Calderón, where they remarkably managed to introduce a flamenco troop into the Prior's cell during La Dolorosa! Both videos are of an excellent technical and artistic standard, one strange lacuna near the end of La revoltosa's preludio apart. They fully deserve their publication, offering highly satisfying entertainment to all starved aficionados, as well as fine quality mementos to the performers themselves and effective advertisement for the work of the Conservatory.
The website has details of these and earlier production videos, including The Saffron Rose (La rosa del azafrán), La verbena de a Paloma, Luisa Fernanda, Cabernet Jarvis (based on Chateau Margaux), La Dolorosa and La Gran Vía. Congratulations to William Jarvis and everyone concerned for their uplifting work on behalf of La zarzuela!
© Christopher Webber 2000