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Zarzuela
Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ (1854–1923)
La Tempranica (1900)
1. Sierras de Granada [6:24]
Federico Moreno TORROBA (1891–1982)
La Marchenera (1928)
2. Petenera (Tres horas antes del dia) [3:00]
Pablo SOROZÁBAL (1897–1988)
Adíos a la bohemia (1933)
3. Recuerdas aquella tarde? [2:26]
Francisco Asenjo BARBIERI (1823–1894)
Mis dos mujeres (1855)
4. ¿Por qué se oprime el alma? [6:21]
Jacinto GUERRERO (1895–1951)
La rosa del azafrán (1930)
5. No me duele que se vaya [3:30]
Pedro Miguel MARQUÉS (1843–1918)
El anillo de hierro (1878)
6. Pasión del alma mia [5:30]
7. Lágrimas mias, en dónde estáis [3:17]
Pablo SOROZÁBAL
La del manojo de rosas (1934)
8. No corté mas que una rosa [4:01]
Manuel Fernández CABALLERO (1835–1906)
Gigantes y cabezudos (1898)
9. ¡Esta es su carta! [5:17]
Federico CHUECA (1846–1908) and Joaquin VALVERDE (1846–1910)
La Gran Via (1886)
10. Chotis del Eliseo madrileño (Yo soy el Elisedo) [4:28]
Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ
La Tempranica (1900)
11. La tarántula (La tarántula é un bicho mu malo) [1:44]
Manuel Fernández CABALLERO
Château Margaux (1887)
12. Siempre lo decia nuestra directora [3:41]
Ana Maria Sánchez (soprano)
Orquesta Sinfónica y Coro de RTVE/Enrique Garcia Asensio
rec. Teatro Monumental de Madrid, 12–16 July, 2004
RTVE 65225 [49:43]



I have to admit from the outset that I am not a specialist in zarzuela. However, ever since I bought Victoria de los Angeles’ LP “A World of Song” more than forty years ago I have been fascinated by the genre. It was an album with songs from many countries and in several languages,  among them two zarzuela arias. Just as Viennese operetta is quite distinct from French and English light opera, the zarzuela is very distinctly Spanish, which is obvious in most of these twelve tracks; not everywhere, though. Historically the genre goes back to 1657 when King Philip IV and his court attended a new comedy with music by Juan de Hildago. For almost one hundred years zarzuelas were in vogue and as late as 1786 Boccherini composed La Clementina, which according to the real zarzuela guru, Christopher Webber, is “a scandalously neglected masterpiece of Spanish lyric theatre”. Italian opera took over. By the middle of the 19th century, however, a new zarzuela wave swept the country. Today we talk about “The Golden Age” which lasted roughly to the turn of the last century.
 
Francisco Asenjo Barbieri is regarded as the most influential of these early composers. There is one very early example of his music, from Mis dos mujeres (tr. 4) – a lyrical aria with a long beautiful cello solo, ravishingly played here by Suzana Stefanovic. Particular Spanish flavour isn’t easy to detect; it might just as well have been written by a Viennese or Italian composer. If we move in time roughly 25 years forward, to Pedro Miguel Marqués (tr. 6) this could be an unknown aria by Bellini. During the early 20th century a new generation of composers broadened and enriched the genre. Two of the most important were Federico Moreno Torroba and Pablo Sorozábal, both represented on this disc. They, as well as many others often employed Spanish dances. Others, notably Federico Chueca – often in collaboration with Joaquin Valverde – introduced different dances: Polka, Waltz, Tango, Jota, Mazurka, Chotis (Schottische) and March. A Chotis is heard in the excerpt from their possibly best known work La Gran Via (tr. 10), which strictly speaking isn’t a zarzuela at all, rather a revista (revue) with no direct plot. It is in effect a political satire, directed against the creation of “La Gran Via”, Madrid’s equivalent to London’s Piccadilly or New York’s Broadway.
 
Zarzuelas are composed even today. On a recent recital with Rolando Villazon he included an aria from Luna, a zarzuela from 1998 by José Maria Cano. While Viennese and French operetta is played everywhere, zarzuela has never achieved much of a foothold outside Spain. For the general non-Spanish public it is primarily through leading Spanish singers that it has become known at all. los Angeles, Caballé; Berganza, Kraus, Domingo, Carreras and lately Villazon. Each has recorded zarzuela arias and included them in their recitals. Now here comes soprano Ana Maria Sánchez with another programme and though there is inevitably some overlapping with other singers, there are several things that I haven’t heard before.
 
Ms Sánches isn’t exactly new. She has been around since she won First Prize in the International Singing Contest in Bilbao in 1992. There have been appearances in many of the leading opera houses in the world, including Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Florence, Venice, Buenos Aires and the New York MET. She has a large vibrant voice of great beauty and among her roles are Tosca, Aida and Norma, which gives an indication of her type. Zarzuela singers are often more light-voiced. Of course Caballé sang those roles too but Ms Sánchez has a heavier voice, with even more heft in reserve. ‘Reserve’ is an important qualification since she employs her resources with the utmost discrimination and has the ability that not all singers in the more dramatic Fach have: to scale down the voice to proportions suitable for the repertoire. It is true that her vibrato at forte and above can sometimes be too generous. This is especially noticeable when one listens to the programme in one sitting. At the same time she can be thrillingly expressive – the aria from Guerrero’s La rosa del azafrán (tr. 5), also recorded by Caballé, gets a reading almost worthy a Turandot. Torroba’s Petenera (tr. 2), which is uncommonly dramatic for this genre, shows that a voice of these dimensions pays dividends. There she is also backed by an intense chorus. On the other hand she is light and lively in La tarantula (tr. 11) sung with tongue-in-cheek and almost challenging Victoria de los Angeles’ charming recording.
 
The symphony orchestra and chorus of RTVE (Radiotelevisión Española) ensure that the backgrounds are as authentic as possible. Valencia-born Enrique Garcia Asensio, once Sergiu Celibidache’s assistant, is one of the most experienced Spanish conductors. He has been on the scene almost fifty years, having performed all over the world and recorded extensively. In 1976 his recording of zarzuela arias with Teresa Berganza and the English Chamber Orchestra was awarded a Grand Prix du Disque from L’Académie Charles Cros in Paris, which vouches for his deep insight in this music.
 
Even though los Angeles, Caballé and Berganza still hold their own in this repertoire, Sánchez is a thrilling alternative with an extra dramatic frisson. She definitely requires to be heard. I would have liked to hear a little more of her, since the playing time is parsimonious. Interested readers should be warned that this issue is aimed at the domestic Spanish market. There are quite extensive biographical notes (in Spanish only) on the singer, the orchestra and the conductor but not a single word on the music and no texts and translations. The brief historical background at the beginning of this review has been compiled from an enormously comprehensive website covering everything of interest concerning zarzuela. Christopher Webber and friends are doing a great job there.
 
Göran Forsling
 



 


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