COMPARATIVE CD REVIEW
As so often with zarzuela on record, choice between the three current versions of Vives' sweet pastoral romance isn't as easy as it ought to be. The Hispavox recording has its origins as the sound track of a 1969 film for Spanish TV. The sound is murky, the orchestral playing dire, the score cut down from 108' plus to about 70'. Unlike the competition, it's on one disk. The 1974 version on Alhambra is much better recorded and played, and gives us twenty minutes more of the complete score. If you want a nearly uncut Maruxa the top choice has to be the 1954 mono recording recently reissued by BMG and conducted by Argenta.
And yet life is rarely simple. There's much to be said in favour of the Hispavox version, despite the manifest drawbacks. With the exception of the Act 2 Thunderstorm, the cuts frankly don't remove much of substance. Torroba's direction is spirited where Asensio's is tasteful, and in what can so easily seem a bland work, he instils real passion into proceedings. Argenta's delicate sense of Vives's musical poetry is a cut above either of his rivals, and the recording has been honourably transferred - what we lose on sonic depth of sound we gain on clarity. His celebrated reading of the Act 2 Preludio remains the most exhilarating ride.
As for the singing, that too has most "face" in the incomplete Hispavox reading. Sagi-Vela in particular endows Pablo with a miraculous sense of poetry, where Sardinero supplies little more than a rough and ready rustic and Ausensi, though caught in his lustiest vocal prime - with some highly suggestive sighs thrown in for good measure - is little match for his older rival, the Fischer-Dieskau of the zarzuela repertoire.
In many ways the self-indulgent Rosa, rather than Maruxa herself, is the central figure of the piece. Caballé certainly provides some sumptuous vocal delights and is far from uninvolving. Cubeiro on Hispavox sounds younger, lighter, and capriciously close to the edge, all of which helps tighten dramatic interest - though Lorengar on BMG runs her close on youth and trumps her in sheer vocal quality.
De Narke's neat Rufo is similarly eclipsed by Gonzalo's oak-hewn buffoon under Torroba. Hear him with Cubeiro in the great Act 1 dúo "Rufo, amigo", and you won't be discarding the Hispavox CD in a hurry. Argenta's Corbello is undeniably characterful but struggles through the later peaks of his dúo with Lorengar.
Of the three Maruxas, Perez for Hispavox conveys magnetic allure where Reira is cautious and Rosado warm but matronly. The various Antonios - much the worst of the five main roles - don't do much to alter the balance, which despite Caballé's gourmet Rosa and Alhambra's stereo sound has to come down in favour of the classic - and totally complete - Argenta performance.
Jan 2000: There is now a further alternative to consider, in the shape of a 2-CD set from Aria Recording of the rare, near- complete 1930 Barcelona recording under Antoni Capdevila, featuring the creator of the title role Ofelia Nieto in one of her last recordings. For good measure Aria throw in substantial recorded extracts from 1914/5, and altogether this issue is very far from being for specialists only.
© Christopher Webber 1998 & 2000