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Antonio de LITERES (1673-1747)
Júpiter y Semele

Jupiter - Marta Almajano; Virginia Ardid - Semele; Cupido - Lola Casariego; Juno - Soledad Cardoso; Enarreta - Marina Pardo; Jordi Ricart - Cadmo, Sátiro; Jose Hernández - Ydaspes
Al ayre español/Eduardo López Banzo
Rec. live, Teatro Municipal de Artà, Mallorca, February 2003
HARMONIA MUNDI HMI 987036.37 [2-CD]

Antonio de Literes (1673-1747) is perhaps the most distinctive voice of the Spanish Baroque; and although this impressive zarzuela is only attributed to him, all internal evidence points to it being his work. Written like Acis y Galatea and Los Elementos to a text by José de Cañizares, Júpiter y Semele had the first of several productions on May 9, 1718 at Madridís Teatro de la Cruz, predating Handelís English opera Semele (never, pace Cristina Diego Pachecoís otherwise impeccable notes, thought of as an oratorio) by twenty-six years.

Júpiter y Semele may not rival what is after all one of Handelís supreme masterpieces, but then it does not aim at the same mark. Where Handel, greatest of Enlightenment music-dramatists, presents an operatic range of situations and raw emotions triggered by love and desire, Literes is more distanced, fashioning a sophisticated mix of high allegory and low comedy. Spoken dialogue alternates with sung numbers, ranging from operatic recits and da capo arias down to comedy dúos al español in the fast-moving manner of the baroque zarzuela. The scoreís variety is a delight, not least for the energised choral epigrams which frame several of the scenes.

Character and psychology are not Literesí prime concerns; but Semele herself - unusually - is a speaking role, and in this atmospheric and urgent live concert recording (made this February in Literesí native Mallorca) Virginia Ardid is able to bring an actorís subtlety and power to her scenes with Jupiter. This makes for some unusual effects - notably at the catastrophe, where Semele is incinerated by embracing (as she herself has demanded) the God in his true fiery form. The alternation of sung and spoken strophes for the two protagonists makes for gripping drama. Rarely can even Marta Almajano have given such a towering performance as she does here, and Jupiterís poised lament after Semeleís death is, fittingly, the musical highpoint of the performance.

The villains of the piece, Cupid and Juno, are played with spiteful verve if less vocal distinction by Lola Casariego and Soledad Cardoso, contrasted in timbre and working well in tandem. The supporting singers are generally excellent, though the minor subplot of King Cadmusís war with Ydaspes suffers from the latterís limitation as a speaking actor. Eduardo López Banzo and Al Ayre Español have always played Spanish baroque as if to the manner born, but thereís an unbuttoned urgency here which makes this their most rewarding zarzuela performance yet.

Itís tricked out with instrumental additions from contemporary sources, and suitable helpings of dialogue. There are good notes as well as José Cañizaresí elegant Spanish original text, usefully translated into French and German as well as ... though Iím not sure English is quite the right word for Mark Owenís rendition, which makes very little sense and contains a host of howlers. Itís time he upgraded his translation software or monitored the results more carefully. The whole is most attractively packaged by Harmonia Mundi, and altogether Júpiter y Semele is easily the most vivid recording to date of any baroque zarzuela.

Christopher Webber



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