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Amadeo VIVES (1871-1932)
Doña Francisquita (1923) - a lyrical comedy zarzuela in three acts
book by Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernández Shaw
Fernando - Alfredo Kraus (tenor)
Francisquita - Maria Bayo (soprano)
Aurora - Raquel Pierotti (mezzo-soprano)
Cardona - Santiago S. Jerico (tenor)
Francisca - Rosa Maria Ysas (contralto)
Don Matias - Alfonso Echeverria (bass)
Polifónico Choir, and Reyes Bartlet Choir (Puerto de la Cruz)
Choir of University of La Laguna/C. Alfonso Cedrés)
Rondalla of Tenerife/C. Alfonso Cedrés)
Orchestra Sinfonica of Tenerife/Antoni Ros-Marbá
Recorded at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, 1993.
NAÏVE CLASSIQUE: V 4893 [2CDs: 52:53+47:31]

This 2 CD set is a French re-release of an Auvidis recording.

Those interested in opera and operetta sometimes turn a musical corner to come across an unexpected and welcome surprise. This is the case with Doña Francisquita. If a recording is to feature as one of the best, most original recordings then this is surely one. Some of the tracks are stunning, both a delight to listen to musically and in performance.

The zarzuela (a Spanish form of light operetta with music, song and dance) originated at the Palace of La Zarzuela, near Madrid, where musical fiestas were regularly held in the 17th Century. The fashion for stage zarzuelas, which were often satirical in nature, grew in the mid-19th Century with composers like Arrieta, Barbieri, Bretón and Giménez, some of whose works already feature in the international CD catalogue. Of its genre this work by Vives is a particularly high-class example.

Until now Vives as a composer has been unknown to me. Sadly little about his musical background is contained in the notes. We are told about his love of Catalonia and that he was Professor of Composition at the Madrid conservatory. He had an accident which caused semi-paralysis but the conservatory gave him assistance to complete the composition of the score. To what extent this help was made is unclear. We do know that Vives often insisted on writing the music before getting the lyricists to work out the words. Since he was Professor of Composition we can understand why the score contains such bright and catchy music with excellent orchestral texture. His score contains a wealth of musical ideas that turn in unexpected directions with temporary changes of key.

The plot concerns a love affair between a student, Fernando, and the 'Francisquita' of the title. Although loved by Francisquita, Fernando ignores her advances, preferring to think he is in love with an actress from La Cruz Theatre. Humour presents itself when Francisquita is wooed by the student's father in front of her mother, where the mother mistakenly believes that it is she who is being wooed. Francisquita pretends to accept the elderly man's advances to make his son, her hopeful lover, jealous and win her affections. Another triangle exists where the actress taunts her other admirer, Lorenzo. A carnival follows where the actress sings a spirited pasacalle. This carnival proceeds across Act 2 and into Act 3, giving Vives an excuse to introduce some spectacular music. An amount of deception and double-dealing follows. All is resolved when the old man realises that he is too old as a match for Francisquita and so believes that his son should marry the girl instead. In the finale they all celebrate the forthcoming wedding.

Vives' score is fresh and exciting, full of colour and the music flows well. He has an excellent feel for harmony and rhythm, providing subtle changes of key to add interest. Interestingly, the opening scene is musically of a different style being through-composed. One could be forgiven for thinking it carries more than a passing likeness to a passage by Puccini.

After the lengthy tr.1 a brightness unfolds and a more typical zarzuelan energy starts to flow with lighter, more frothy, material. Many of the songs are charming and bounce along with plenty of colour. The orchestral forces are sumptuous and provide delightful decoration to the melodic lines. Listen to the first two minutes of CD1 tr.3, with its zithering mandolin opening. It is distinctively Spanish in rhythm and gathers momentum with interesting undercurrents in the bass line. In contrast, the dreaming waltz tune (CD2 tr.5) with humming woodwind/violas is unusual and also excites the listener.

The performance owes much of its strength to the excellent soloists, a good chorus and Antoni Ros-Marbá's vivacious direction. Alfredo Kraus is an experienced operatic tenor who needs no introduction. He is on good form, singing with substantial heft commanding a considerable presence. Many of the other names are not so well known outside Spain. Of them, Maria Bayo is a light lyrical soprano, well suited to the role of Francisquita with her delightful bell-like timbre and good vocal expression. Alfonso Echeverria is a smooth and resonant bass while Santiago Jerico, a pleasant high light tenor with good voice, tends to be uneven when singing stretched phrases and lacks the necessary breath control.

The recording is outstandingly good with optimum balance between soloists and choir, and choir and orchestra. The acoustics are superb and give a particularly fine resonance to the brass. The notes, however, do not always focus on matters that would be of most interest to the reader: they certainly dwell too much on a differentiation between the three act zarzuela (great genre) and one act zarzuela (small genre). There is a full libretto of the work with stage directions in Spanish, French, English and German. The notes also refer to the CDs by the number 4710, which might be the number of the original issue.

Raymond J. Walker

You might also be interested in The Zarzuela Companion by Christopher Webber

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