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Don Gil de Alcalá (Penella)

Lina Huarte, Teresa Berganza, Ginés Torrano, Manuel Ausensi, Antonio Campó. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Gran Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Ataulfo Argenta
BMG Columbia 74321 35972 2

Luis Sagi Vela, Dolores Pérez, Ramón Alonso, Luisa de Cordoba, Santiago Ramalle. Coros de la Radio Nacional de España, Orquesta de Camara de Madrid, c. Ricardo Estevarena
Montilla FM66 [highlights] [LP, nla]

María Vallojera, Trini Avellí, Marcos Redondo, Antonio Palacios, Pablo Gorgé. Orquesta y coro, c. Manuel Penella
Blue Moon BMCD 7513 [highlights]

However crumbly the sound, BMG's 1956 near-complete double album under Argenta remains an indispensible purchase for any budding zarzuelero. This aristocratic comedy has an 18th century Mexican setting and delicate pastiche score to match, yet the sum total of Penella's achievement is greater than the parts. Argenta's cast could hardly be bettered, with Huarte and Berganza miraculously euphonious in the haunting dúo habanera, Torrano for once both passionate and vocally restrained in the title role, and Ausensi lisewise keeping his vocal horsepower appropriately under wraps. BMG manage to include a full libretto, and altogether this is unlikely to be surpassed.

The hour-long highlights on Montilla provide a generous taster of Penella's masterpiece. Don Gil's Act 3 prison romanza, bafflingly absent from Argenta's otherwise complete version, is included here, sung with elegant legato by the great tenorial baritone Sagi Vela. Pérez's glamorous Niña Estrella is equally attractive, and the rest - notably Alonso, Cordoba and Ramalle as the servants - provide strong support. Montilla chose to record the composer's alternative version for full orchestra, less witty and fleet of foot than the string band original; but despite this and the two-dimensional recording quality this is a valuable supplement to the BMG version which deserves to be remastered onto CD.

The extracts from the first Spanish production, conducted by the composer himself in 1932, make another tempting supplement - especially given the desirable coupling, the 1930 Barcelona La Gran Vía. Vallojera is not always securely in tune; but with Redondo singing both tenor and baritone rivals for the heroine's affection, this half-hour selection of highlights offers a fair sample of the charms of Penella's score.

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