El rey que rabió (Chapí)

Luis Sagi-Vela, Josefina Cubeiro, Octavio Alvarez, Ramon Alonso. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Lírica Española, c. Federico Moreno Torroba
EMI 5 74229 2

Pilar Lorengar, Toñy Rosado, Carlos Munguía, Manuel Ausensi. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica c. Ataulfo Argenta
Novoson Z-536

Amparo Albiach, Mary Isaura, Enrique Parra, Angel de León. Gran Orquesta y Coro del Teatro de Liceo, c. Concordio Gelabert
Blue Moon BMCD 7525

Sara Fenor, Angeles Ottein, Eduardo Marcén. Coro del Teatro Calderón de Madrid y Gran Orquesta Odeón, c. Modesto Romero
Blue Moon BMCD 7520 [highlights]

Chapí's comic operetta explores the familiar theme of the King who disguises himself - in this case as a shepherd - to discover what his subjects really think of him. The central role was written for a soprano, but modern practise often replaces her with a tenor - or in the case of the EMI recording the unique tenor-baritone of Sagi Vela. He makes the best possible case for the substitution, never overpowering his beloved Rosa (Cubeiro) in their duet and singing with graceful ease throughout. She matches his qualities in the gorgeous romanza "¡Ay de mi!", and with Torroba drilling the important choruses notably well, this is very appealing.

It's not often that Sagi Vela may be matched against Lorengar, who took the King for Alhambra in the somewhat elderly-sounding recording under Argenta. His comparatively relaxed but pointed direction is a major asset, as is Lorengar's melting sweetness. She is well-contrasted with the weightier Rosado, but the thought occurs that they might have been better cast the other way round. There is strong support from the rest of the cast, not least Munguía as Rosa's pathetic suitor Jeremías - here allowed his comic raconto, cut by EMI - and altogether this is another performance which will give satisfaction, though the BMG-Novoson remastering is strangely parsimonious with tracking.

The virtually complete historic recording under Gelabert comes across with greater immediacy. There's more sense of comedy here than in either of the LP recordings - for example, in the witty string traceries of the orchestral minuet, or the tongue-in-cheek bagpipe drones of the 'back up' vocalists in the King's Pastoral Idilio - and the 1931 recording is better balanced than any rival! The individual singers may not be of the calibre of a Sagi-Vela or Lorengar, but they play off one another intelligently, and BM 7525 would make a high-spirited alternative to either of the later recordings, or even a viable first choice.

The other Blue Moon (BM 7520) contains about 23' of highlights from another early performance. It is mainly of interest for Ottein's beauty of line in "¡Ay de mi!" - and for the coupling, a marvellously funny El dúo de La Africana.