Fundación de la Zarzuela Española

Tres Sopranos con la ZarzuelaTres Sopranos
con la Zarzuela

Yolanda Auyanet, soprano; Elisabete Matos, soprano; Marina Rodríguez Cusí, mezzo-soprano;
Luis Varela, actor. Orquesta Filarmonía, Coro Eurolírica; c. Pascual Osa; d. Jesús Peñas

[rec. Teatro Real, Madrid, September 28th 2006]

Fundación de la Zarzuela Española DVD SAO 1293

Gimenez: Sierras de Granada (La Tempranica); Chapi: Cuando esta tan hondo (El barquillero); Vives: Canción de ruiseñor (Doña Francisquita); Giménez: Canción gitana (El baile de Luis Alonso); Sorozábal: En un país de fabula (La tabernera del puerto); Chapí: Carceleras (Las hijas del Zebedeo); Penella: Habanera (Don Gil de Alcalá); Sorozábal: Preludio orquestal del acto 2 (La del manojo de rosas); Caballero: Dúo de Ketty y Soledad (Los sobrinos del Capitan Grant); Barbieri: Dúo de las majas (El barberillo de Lavapies); Gimenez: Me llaman la Primorosa (El barbero de Sevilla); Serrano: Romanza de Rosa (Los claveles); Guerrero: No me duele que se vaya (La rosa del azafrán); Vives: Coro de Románticos (Doña Francisquita); Soutullo y Vert: Pasacalle de las mantillas (El último romántico)

There is a frustrating dearth of DVDs available to zarzuela lovers outside Spain but the Fundación de la Zarzuela Española has issued a recording of this Teatro Real gala performance. Unsurprisingly this is not freely available from UK, although I was easily able to obtain a copy from the Spanish online seller Zona de Compras and I see that is currently (April 2010) listing the title.

English speakers will be delighted that English subtitles are available at the click of a button. It's a pity that the Fundación did not consider that English speakers might also want to understand the Spanish-only text in the well-appointed booklet, as well as what is being said in the DVD Extra when we see and hear the director and performers in discussion. But perhaps to ask for the moon when we have the stars would be ungrateful. As can be seen, the programme is a mixture of familiar potboilers and a generous sprinkling of less-frequently performed items. I was particularly pleased by the inclusion of my favourite number from El último romántico and I certainly wasn't disappointed by the brisk, joyous performance in which the vocal line is shared between the three sopranos, each proudly draped in a colourful shawl.

The presentation style is a close relation of that adopted for Madrilena Bonita (Teatro Real / Fundacion de la Zarzuela Espanola DVD SAO 1033) where projections of title pages of scores and illustrations alternate with appropriate Spanish scenes behind the action. The curtain rises on voice tests day in the vicinity of the Teatro Real, and we’re confronted with a table and chairs (could this be the Cafe Oriente?) complete with waiter – Luis Varela in Espasa mode from La del manojo de rosas). Enter the sopranos as themselves (though presumably in a time warp, as costumes indicate that we are in the 1940s), apparently ignorant of the incipient auditions. In for a penny in for a pound, so at the instigation of Señor Espasa each in turn grasps courage in both hands and has a go.

The idea of singers presenting themselves for an audition as part of the onstage action is not new – as witness the audition sequence in El dúo de la africana so excellently recorded both on CD (Deutsche Grammophon) and DVD (Teatro Real/Fundacion de la Zarzuela Espanola DVD SAO 1035). So essentially this is a concert in costume, with the musical items loosely strung together by a rather weak “plot”, and dialogue which really got on my nerves by halfway through part two, as the rambling Varela showered oily praise on the soloists, distributed manuscript sheets (ostensibly the pieces needed for the next audition number) and gave instructions to an equally annoying child sidekick who couldn’t stop shouting. Perhaps Spanish and British humour are not always on the same wavelength: although judging from the reticence of the Teatro Real audience, perhaps the madrileños were getting as fed up with all this as I was.

Señor Espasa is supposed to have been present at many a first night, in his time as prompt, extra and singer. He waxes lyrical about some great zarzuela performers, and provides background information about the works. More than once a word currently synonymous with British adolescence sprang to mind – “Wha’evah!” and I found myself longing for a large shepherd’s crook to appear from the wings and despatch him for good! For me, the idea of singers appearing as their 21st century selves in a 20th century scenario just didn't work. But that said, the use of a plot however thin does give everyone an excuse to move away from the evening dress / dinner jacket concert format, don colourful costumes and have a party.

Elisabeth Matos and Marina Rodriguez Cusi. The good...Although some of their dialogue is delivered in a coy and cringe-worthy manner, once the singing starts Elisabeth Matos and Marina Rodríguez Cusí really get their teeth into the pieces. Their characterisations are good, Cusí especially with a near-perpetual frown on her brow! I do feel though that Matos is too matronly for the girlish María in “Sierras de Granada”Yolanda Auyanet tends to posture rather than convey believable characters. She doesn't seem totally at ease compared against her consummately professional colleagues. Her singing is robust, but once again Auyanet is not up there with Matos and Cusí. Many high notes are strained and there is more than of hint of screech which reminded me of a latter day Ana María Iriarte. Instead of soaring effortlessly in the Canción de ruiseñor she rather suggests that the nightingale has contracted a dose of avian flu and is about to drop off the twig any moment.

... and the not so good. Yolanda Auyanet and Luis VarelaThe chorus drift on and off and provide firm support, although it’s a case of Stand and Deliver rather than Act, rather in the manner of the old D’Oyly Carte. I know the focus is on three sopranos, but a whole programme of uniform vocal colouring becomes a tad tedious; so I wish we could have had some male voices too, beyond Fernando’s and Cardona’s small contributions in the Doña Francisquita number. There is only one purely orchestral piece: odd, as another couple would have made for a more balanced programme. Throughout the orchestra plays with élan under Pascual Osa who never lets the tempi drag.

Seamless, varied camera work provides crisp, clear images with sound and colour of high quality. The translations are in good English without some of the alien oddities often found in CD booklets (I'm thinking of Auvidis Valois/Naive in particular), and the subtitles keep in step. Altogether this is a well-produced DVD which helps to spread the word to zarzueleros-in-waiting; and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who enjoys watching as well as listening to the glorious theatre music which has played such a significant part in the history of Spanish musical culture – and which, rightly, is no longer one of that country’s best kept secrets.

© Ian Brown 2010

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27 April 2010