Júpiter y Semele (Literes)

Marta Almajano, Virginia Ardid, Lola Casariego, Soledad Cardoso, Marina Pardo, Jordi Ricart, Jose Hernández. Al Ayre Español, dir. Eduardo López Banzo.
Harmonia Mundi HMI 987036.37 [2-CD]

This impressive zarzuela may not quite rival Handel's great English masterpiece Semele, but then it does not aim at the same mark. Where Handel is centrally concerned with delving into the all-too human emotions of his characters, Literes moulds an essentially distanced, baroque zarzuela mix of high allegory and low comedy, though his characterisation is certainly not without its own interest.

Semele here is not a singing role, and in this atmospheric and urgent live concert recording she is played by Ardid, a first-class actress whose scenes with Jupiter make for gripping drama - rarely has even Almajano given such a magnificent performance as she does here, and her beautiful lament after Semele's death is a highspot. The villains of the piece, Cupid and Juno, are played with spiteful verve by Casariego and Cardoso, the supporting cast are excellent, and Banzo and his group can now play this fine music for all its considerable worth.

It's complete with full dialogue, good notes and texts, including useful translations into French and German - just as well, as the lamentable English version makes very little sense and contains a host of howlers. The whole is also most attractively packaged by Harmonia Mundi; and altogether this represents the most vivid recording to date of any baroque zarzuela. Very highly recommended.