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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
El hijo fingido (1964)
Miquel Ramón (baritone) – Leonardo; María Rodríguez (soprano) – Ángela; Lola Casariego (mezzo) – Doña Bárbara; María José Suárez (contralto) – Rosita, la Inca; María Rey-Joly (soprano) – Dominga; Emilio Sánchez (tenor) – Beltrán; Enrique del Portal (tenor) – Don Octavio; Luis Álvarez (bass) – Don Ventura; Carlos López (bass) – Capitán Fajardo; Carmen Haro (singing actress) – Basilisia
Coro y Orquestra de la Comunidad de Madrid; Florence Dumont (harp); John Stoke (cello)/Miguel Roa
rec. 2000, Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid
Spanish libretto included.
EMI CLASSICS  5 57127 2 [78:12]

Rodrigo’s El hijo fingido (‘The Feigned Son’) was premiered on 5 December 1964 at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid. But before that it had a long and fairly complicated genesis. In her memoirs, Joaquin Rodrigo’s wife Victoria Kamhi recalls how in 1955 the librettist and dramatist Jesús Arazomena (1918-1972) visited the composer at his house in Torreledones (near Madrid), with the proposal that Rodrigo write some incidental music to an adaptation by Arazomena of a comedy (¡De cuándo acá nos vino!) by Lope de Vega and that the resulting work be entered for a state-run competition then in progress. The work was completed by the following year, but failed to win any of the prizes on offer. Later Rodrigo composed more numbers and Kamhi herself adapted and added to Arazomena’s book (he seems to have lost interest in the project and Kamhi is less than complimentary about him). In her revisions and expansions she added material from another of Lope de Vega’s comedies, Los ramilletes de Madrid. It was in this form that the work was eventually performed in Madrid, some nine years after its conception.

Rodrigo and Khami described the work as a Lyric Comedy; it is clearly heavily indebted to the tradition of the zarzuela. Since the present CD contains the libretto only in the original Spanish, and lacks even a plot summary in English, it may be worth offering a summary of sorts. The story concerns the amorous adventures of Lieutenant Leonardo, a handsome young man serving in the Spanish army in Flanders, under the command of one Captain Fajardo. Leonardo returns to Spain, bearing letters of introduction and recommendation from Fajardo. One of these is addressed to Doña Barbara, sister of Fajardo. She is a young and attractive widow and mother of Angela (who, naturally, is also very attractive). Leonardo tampers with his letter, so that it gives the impression that he is actually Fajardo’s son. Treated now as a relative, Doña Barbara offers him lodgings – and both she and her daughter fall in love with him. Both make their love known; Doña Barbara tries to outwit her daughter by persuading her that Leonardo is actually her brother and that love between them is therefore impossible. But the arrival of Captain Fajardo effects a solution. At first Leonardo runs away, but it is clear that he is sorry for his actions and the Captain first forgives him and then adopts him as true son; a marriage between Leonardo and Angela.

Rodrigo’s music is everywhere tuneful and attractively airy – it breathes a kind of aural sunshine and clarity of light. Essentially this is a kind of neo-classical updating of the idioms of eighteenth-century opera buffa. In an interview given at the time of the work’s premiere, Rodrigo himself said, aptly enough, that the work “follows the same course pursued by the mischievous undertakings of 18th century opera buffa, which were followed by Mozart’s sweet smile and Rossini’s picaresque one, and which in the 19th century. mitigated the dejection of Romanticism, gladdening its score with the charm of our popular music”.

As is often the case, Rodrigo’s music is at its most thoroughly attractive and characteristic in the orchestral writing; I have never found him, much as I love his work, an especially successful writer for the voice. The Overture is a well made piece of theatrical music, opening and closing with vivace writing framing a lyrical middle section. There are reminiscences of Fantasía para un gentilhombre in the brief orchestral Canario which follows. The short orchestral introduction to Act I has some lovely idiomatically Spanish inflections in the string writing and the prelude to Act II provides a lovely set of variations (on ‘Guádarme les vacs’) with the harp of Florence Dumont foregrounded. There is forceful, even passionate (within the generic confines of lyric comedy) orchestral writing in the Act II duet (‘¿Por qué no qieres?’) between Ángela and Doña Bárbara. The second Act intermezzo is delightfully echoic of Spanish Renaissance dance music.

All the vocal writing is highly competent, though only parts of the score have the real vitality and crispness of Rodrigo’s very best orchestral writing. Doña Bárbara’s Act I canción ‘Vivo, y es mucho deciros, junto a la Plaza Mayor’’ is delightful, liltingly melodious; the Act I duet (‘Ramilettes de Madrid’) of Ángela and Leonardo is an attractive, vivacious piece. In Act II the very best music comes towards the end, with Leonardo’s romanza ‘¿Dónde me encontrarás, alba?’, Ángela’s exquisite ‘Yo pagaré la posada’, sung to the accompaniment of cello alone (charmingly played by John Stokes) and a rousing concertante to close ‘Yo es ruego’).

The more I listened to this recording, the more solid and rewarding the piece seemed. Relatively free of grand gestures, El hijo fingido has a charm which, without the advantages of seeing it performed, doesn’t necessarily strike one immediately. But performed with the thorough knowledge of the idiom which the artists of Madrid’s specialist theatre bring to it, this is a real delight. Miguel Roa’s conducting and the work of orchestra and chorus are utterly assured and sympathetic; of the soloists, María Rodríguez is impressive both in terms of voice and characterisation, comic roles are pleasingly articulated by Emilio Sánchez and Enrique del Portal; as Leonardo, Miquel Ramón makes some lovely contributions in his more lyrical numbers.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 


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