DVD roundup
from Christopher Webber

Jarvis Conservatoire
Madrileña Bonita
Esto es Zarzuela

With studio recording apparently a pearl beyond the price of today's CD producers, La Zarzuela finds herself decked in the same paste jewels as her elder sister La Opera, with live performance on DVD becoming the chosen format for new releases. Whatever the drawbacks, the newer medium does allow us to see as well as hear how our current crop of performers measures up against the classics. Often we hear them in very good sound too, albeit peppered with stage bumps and executive imperfections which may grate on repetition. But then music DVD is more about capturing the instant, less about savouring performances down the years. How many DVD releases will turn out to be “keepers” to share the company of those treasured sound-only versions? Ask me in twenty years!

Jarvis Conservatoire
Website: jarvisconservatory.com
Email: info@jarvisconservatory.com
The performing tradition at Napa in California, where a zarzuela is staged each summer to admirable musical and theatrical standards, is vividly conveyed in the recent crop of DVDs. All are from live performances, some seamlessly transferred from earlier VHS releases. The Jarvis Conservatoire productions are in traditional style and bilingual, with spoken dialogue in English and musical numbers in Spanish. Given the well-translated subtitles optionally provided this solution works pretty well. Choral, orchestral and - especially - dance contributions are at a consistently high level, and especially for starved aficionados in the USA the Jarvis archive provides a very satisfying feast.

[ Luis Alonso ] [ Anthology 2004 ] [ La chulapona ]
[ Doña Francisquita ] [ La gran vía ] [ La dolorosa ]

Luis Alonso (Jarvis DVD)

The first half of the 2004 production was a version of the two Giménez género chico gems, La boda... and El baile de Luis Alonso. If their stage status has lately been more honoured in the breach than the observance this is surely down to the limitations of their lightweight libretti, rather than their wealth of Andalusian-style dance music, much of it familiar from zarzuela galas worldwide. It was a clever idea to showcase these scintillating scores in one, compressed story lasting just over an hour, and William Jarvis's intelligent adaptation flows seamlessly. Luis Alonso's flirtatious wife (the winning Adrienne Starr ) may be at the centre of the plot, but this is a real team effort. The dance sequences go especially well, and for anyone interested in experiencing two of the most justly familiar zarzuela scores in a tasteful theatrical setting this is highly recommendable.

Antologia 2004 (Jarvis DVD)

ANTOLOGÍA 2004 (61:00)
After the enjoyable Luis Alonso, Jarvis audiences were treated to an hour-long festival of song and (more especially) dance from 12 different Spanish stage works. As with the complete zarzuelas, Spanish is the sung language, but the English subtitles are excellent. This was a thoughtfully compiled anthology, taking in traditional tirana and bulerias dances as well as a range of popular items from works diverse as La revoltosa, La linda tapada and El trust de los tenorios. All the performers (not least lusty tenor Christopher Bengochea) convey their enjoyment, Mario La Vega's choreography is focussed and nicely integrated, and the whole makes for a lively souvenir of what was evidently a great evening's entertainment, for an audience who give performers and orchestra a standing ovation at the conclusion.

La chulapona (Jarvis DVD)

LA CHULAPONA (102:17) In 2003 the lot fell upon Torroba's highly demanding operone, an ambitious choice played for all its considerable costumbrista colour and variety. The principal performers are generally strong, not least Manuela La chulapona ( Valentina Osinski) and her intense rival Rosario( Kathryn Zeager.) The musical direction of José Antonio Irastorza is very strong, Daniel Helfgot's production has an elegant solidity, and this is one of the most consistently splendid of the Conservatoire's achievements. Comparison with the video to DVD transfer of the great Teatro de la Zarzuela signature production is beside the point, for this is one of many zarzuelas where subtitles really do enhance an international audience's appreciation of a masterpiece.

Dona Francisquita (Jarvis DVD)

Vives' masterpiece stands at the crossroads between zarzuela and opera, needing full-strength projection and subtle dramatic sense from all four principals. A degree of caution in Philip J. Bauman's reading allows his 2001 cast to display its vocal prowess with security, and they're strong even by Jarvis standards. Fernando, torn between two very different women, is at the heart of Vives' masterpiece and Jimmy Kansau charts his journey sympathetically; though at least joint honours go to Kristin Peterson's charming, light Francisquita. The fluent production, rich in nostalgic detail, is very well remastered for DVD (4:3 aspect) and can once again be confidently recommended.

La gran via (Jarvis DVD)

LA GRAN VÍA (52:25)
Chueca's immortal review was given a spirited revival under Monroe Kanouse at Jarvis in 1996. Daniel Helfgot's vaudeville production is colourful and well-drilled, choral ensemble and choreography exceptionally so. Of the principals Doña Virtudes ( Virginia Voulgaris) upstages her errant maid when it comes to her turn at the famous Tango, and Judith Barnes-Kerrigan makes a properly elegant, supercilious Eliséo. The vocal comedy goes well, and there's an overflowing sense of life about proceedings which makes the Jarvis show infinitely preferable to the dismal Teatro Calderón version from Madrid, now also available (subtitled) on DVD.

La dolorosa (Jarvis DVD)

LA DOLOROSA (52:06) The 1996 production of Serrano's intense, monastic melodrama has been well remastered for DVD. Rafael is mellifluously sung by Jorge Gomez , dead ringer physically for the young Domingo. Theatrically he is pastel-shaded, though Karen Carle 's Dolores is better focussed. This ill-starred pair are portrayed as simple peasants, which accords not at all with librettist Lorente's intention. Perico and Nicasia are cast with refreshing unconventionality, but the rest of the heavily cut comedy scenes seem laboured on the small screen. Monroe Kanouse 's beat can be inflexible, and the reassignment of Serrano's Preludio to perfunctory scene link is a loss. Though not the strongest in the Jarvis series this provides a decent DVD alternative to the tasteless Teatro Calderón effort, which amongst other horrors randomly introduced a gyrating dance troop into the Prior's cell! The best DVD of La dolorosa remains Jean Gremillon's daring 1934 film adaptation.

Madrilena Bonita (Maria Jose Montiel)

María José Montiel, Fernando Guillén, Coro Eurolírica, Orquesta Filarmonía, c. Pascual Osa, d. Jesús Peñas, choreography César Casares. Rec. Teatro Real Madrid, 30th September 2004.
Teatro Real/Fundación de la Zarzuela Española
DVD SA01033

Well-staged, well-prepared musically and well-presented for DVD, Madrileña Bonita is surely the most satisfying thing of its kind to emerge since the days of Tamayo's famous Antología in the 1980's and 90's. Unlike many such shows, it centres almost exclusively on the talent of one artist, and María José Montiel is well up to the challenge. Her intelligence and strong personality are readily conveyed, her chocolate-rich mezzo is in great form throughout. In romanzas such as “Cuando está tan hondo” (El barquillero) which she was born to sing, musical and vocal allure are in perfect equilibrium. Even where there's a slight mismatch between musical needs and vocal nature, as with “De España vengo” , Montiel's artistry gains the day. This is a star performance: ten seconds sampled from either that Chapí romanza or Trini's “Recuerdas aquella tarde” from Adios a la Bohemia should convince anyone of that.

Montiel sings Trini's number draped over film actor Fernando Guillén, the evening's dignified MC. His delivery of the linking script stays just the right side of solemn, though the idea that the evening is a nostalgic “tribute to the women of Madrid ” is carried through more in half-glimpsed visual projections than the choice of music, a pleasant selection taken mostly from the usual gala suspects. Chorus and dance elements ring the changes nicely, orchestral execution is smart, although Pascual Osa's tempi can veer into eccentricity. Costuming is opulent, lighting is atmospheric and sophisticated, so there's something to enchant eye as well as ear.

The DVD is well produced, sound and image both rich and clear. It's an inestimable advantage to have good English subtitles available. Best bonus of all, the Spanish-only booklet is generously illustrated not only with stills from the show, but also rare photographs of those most famous Madrid women, the zarzuela sopranos of the Golden age. These, and the accompanying texts, are provided by Emilio García Carretero, historian of the Teatro Real and no mean zarzuela performer himself. Short but perfectly formed, this is one zarzuela gala which nobody should miss.

Esto es Zarzuela


Guadalupe Sánchez, Salvador Baladez, Ricardo Muñiz, Pilar Moro, Svetla Krasteva, Luis Cansino; Ballet Rosa Zaragoza; Coro G.G.C. dir. Miguel Periáñez, Orquesta Sinfónica Amadeo Vives, c. Pascual Ortega, d. Francisco Matilla. Rec. 20 December 2003 Teatro Auditorium Madrid.
Producciones Guridi, S.L.

Another anthology, which takes a more conservative tack than the Teatro Real's theme-plus-star approach. Perhaps “That was Zarzuela” might reflect the atmosphere more accurately; but in fairness Producciones Guridi go for sensible sequences from a small number of popular zarzuelas, mixing solos, duets, choruses and danced intermedios enjoyably. There's a good selection from La layenda del beso; and some rarer items, too, such as the hero's romanza from Black el Payaso - although Luis Cansino's energetic rendition can't disguise that this is one of the weaker numbers from that marvellous score. Francisco Matilla's hand on the directorial tiller plus lively choreography ensures focus is maintained, even where lack of rehearsal time results in some generalised acting - not least from the distinguished male soloists, of whom Salvador Baladez comes off best as a vertiginously deboshed Caballero from La gran vía.

Guadalupe Sánchez and Pilar Moro take the lion's share of the female roles to good effect, but it is the guest appearance of Bulgarian soprano Svetla Krasteva in “Me llaman la primorosa” (common to both anthologies - and incidentally to the Jarvis 2004 concert as well) which really lights up the house. With workmanlike support from the Vives Orchestra and tight tempi from Pascual Ortega, there's plenty here to entertain.

The disc itself is serviceably produced, though some of the menu still shots should have been de-interlaced to avoid an off-putting visual pulse on my various players. The sound, which favours orchestra at the expense of distant-sounding soloists, is not ideal; nor was the side-angle camera colour-matched with the rest, which might have the viewer reaching fruitlessly for the colour control. Given Producciones Guridi's shoestring resources and high ideals for La Zarzuela, this is a creditable first issue.

© Christopher Webber 2005

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