La verbena de la Paloma (Bretón)

María Bayo, Plácido Domingo, Rachel Pierotti, Rafael Castejon. Coro de la Comunicad y Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, c. Antoni Ros Marbà
Naïve V 4895

Teresa Tourné, Renato Cesari, Dolores Ripolles, Antonio Pérez Bayod. Coro Cantores y Orquesta Conciertos de Madrid, c. Federico Moreno Torroba
EMI 5 74212 2

Manuel Ausensi, Toñy Rosado, Ana María Iriarte, Patrocinio Rico, Inés Rivadeneira, Carlos Oller. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Gran orquesta Sinfónica, c. Ataulfo Argenta (1952)
Classicsonline.com 9.80792 [download]

Manuel Ausensi, Inés Rivadeneira, Ana María Iriarte, Selica Pérez Carpio, Dolores Pérez, Miguel Ligero. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Gran orquesta Sinfónica, c. Ataulfo Argenta (1958)
RCA Classics 74321 35967 2 or Novoson Z-479

Alfredo Kraus, Inés Rivadeneira, Angeles Chamorro, Luisa de Córdoba, Antonio Campo. Coro Cantores, Orquesta Manuel de Falla, c. Enrique García Asensio
Carillon CAL19

Luis Sagi-Vela, Dolores Pérez, Santiago Ramallé, Elsa del Campo. Orquesta y Coros Montilla, c. E. M. Marco
Zafiro 50603039

Emilio Vendrell, Cora Raga, Rosita Rodrigo, Anselmo Fernández. Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Antonio Capdevila
Blue Moon BMCD 7505

Pepe Romeu, Selíca Pérez Carpio, Eduardo Marcén. Orquesta Sinfónica Columbia, c. Daniel Montorio
Homokord HOM10357

La Verbena is one of the jewels in the zarzuela crown. The picture it paints of Madrid street life and summer heats, internal and external, is as vivid, frank and colourful as a Goya canvas. Bretón's score is one of the strongest in the entire repertoire - tuneful and elegant certainly, but shot through with daring touches of naturalism.

The Naïve (originally issued by Auvidis in 1998) is a real triumph of ensemble, expertly sung throughout, played and conducted with vigour and sophistication. Domingo as a remarkably credible young lover has the lion's share, Bayo and Pierotti match him well as the two girls out on the spree. Castejón provides a suitably sordid Don Hilarion, not too gross in his comedy song, whilst Amengual manages to give the whole role of Aunty Antonia in an unforgettable brandy-soaked throaty growl. The recording is red-blooded to match. Altogether this is one of the best of a crucial, reaffirmative series of recordings - and a highly recommendable starting point for anyone interested in exploring the genéro chico repertoire.

The earlier and more elusive of Argenta's two recordings (1952) is now available as an excellent and cheap download from Naxos's classicsonline.com website. With Ausensi and Iriarte in notably fresh voice, plus warmly human contributions from Oller's believable chemist and Rosado's Rita, and a smooth transfer by David Lennick, this is a tempting supplementary addition for any zarzuela library. Its musical value is perhaps superior to the conductor's legendary 1958 remake.

The older ex-LP versions listed all have much to recommend them. BMG's veteran 1958 version (now reissued by Novoson) sounds its age, but Ligero's quintessentially salacious chemist and Argenta's affectionate conducting - more theatrical than in 1952 - remain delightful. EMI generously couple their lively version, notable for Cesari's sensitive Julián, with an equally vital La revoltosa. Kraus on Carillon is a tenor Julián, unpleasantly imperious in the great habanera and sympathetic elsewhere. There's a great sense of the street about this performance, despite limited dynamic range and dry recording. Sagi-Vela is perhaps an over-manicured Julián, but the Zafiro cast is uniformly good, with Rivadeneira a commanding Rita.

An infuriatingly wasted opportunity by Blue Moon. This 1931 classic remains, believe it or not, the only absolutely complete Verbena, as it includes the tiny choral finale cut in the modern versions, which choose to end with the big climax of the habanera concertante. In Vendrell it boasts the finest Julián, and in Raga the best Rita. The whole performance comes over as thrillingly now as it must have done 70 years ago. Unfortunately many of the original shellac sides were recorded faster than standard speed; but Blue Moon have painstakingly transferred the results at a constant 78rpm! The result is variable side pitches at anything up to a minor third too low, and there are also huge and unnecessary gaps at the side turns. These faults could have been rectified by some minor editing, and this frustrating CD cannot be recommended as it stands.

Homokord offer substantial extracts under Montorio recorded in 1931 by a top-notch cast led by Romeu's ultra-romantic and communicative Julian, Pérez Carpio's withering Susana (she also sings the Soleares) and Marcén's highly salacious Don Hilarión. Blue Moon's older transfer of this set (BMCD 7550) was ruined by drastic pitch fluctuations, so it's doubly welcome to have Homokord's smooth if over-processed version available.