Some of the names here are relatively unfamiliar; but if you have
enjoyed Maria Bayo’s work on recital discs of Handel, Mozart and
Rossini, or in any of her many other recordings, you will probably
feel confident (and rightly so) that there is much pleasure to
be had from this disc too. If you are interested in the development
of that distinctively Spanish form of the zarzuela you will probably
regard this reissued anthology (it was formerly Naïve E8885) as
a compulsory purchase. With material from operas ranging in date
from 1728 to 1786, it offers a valuable (if necessarily brief)
survey of the early history of the form. But this is no mere exercise
in historical documentation – there is much lovely music here.
of the zarzuela repertoire survives from the early years of
the eighteenth century and the arias from two works by José
de Nebra Blasco are of particular interest. Nebra Blasco was
principal organist of the convent of Descalzas Reales and
of the royal chapel in Madrid from 1724; he later became head
of the royal choir school. His writing of zarzuelas (and related
works) belongs to two main periods, 1723-30 and 1737-51; he
wrote over fifty such works. Antonio Soler studied with Nebra
Blasco. Nebra Blasco’s writing here is both impressively various
and accomplished. The dignity and grand elegance of an aria
such as ‘¡Ay Amor¡ ¡ay, Clelia mía!’ make it a match for all
but the greatest of Nebra Blasco’s contemporaries elsewhere
in Europe; it is ravishingly sung by Bayo, with instrumental
support beautifully judged.
Like much of the
music on this CD, José de Nebra Blasco’s work is not obviously
‘Spanish’, belonging rather in the mainstream of the Italian-influenced
idiom which largely held sway in Spain as elsewhere. It was
primarily in the middle years of the eighteenth century that
the zarzuela began to express Spanish reaction against the
prevailing dominance of Italian and French fashions. In some
of these later works, the distinctively Spanish idioms are
more pronounced – notably in the music from La madrileña
o el tutor burlado by Nebra Blasco’s pupil Soler.
Violante’s seguidilla ‘Inocentita y niña’ enacts the encounter
of Italy and Spain in its music – and in its text:
An innocent little girl
I come from Italy
to encounter the rogues
one meets in Spain.
What will become of me? Oh!
Shall I be ruined? What?
Shall I be deceived? No!
Shall I be the deceiver? Well,
if anyone would like to come closer
I’ll tell him!
Violante the Italian girl may have for her dealings with Spanish
men, musically speaking it is Spain that comes out on top
in this delightful short aria, the quasi-folk elements pronounced
but attractively sophisticated in some subtle vocal and orchestral
this disc there is delight to be had – certainly it whets
the appetite for hearing more of the music of composers such
as Nebra Blasco and Antonio Rodriguez de Hita, whose music
doesn’t come our way too often. In the cases of Soler and
Boccherini, more familiar names, Rousset and Bayo have recorded
relatively unfamiliar music, very well worth hearing.
Les Talens Lyriques,
directed by Christophe Rousset, provide vivid and sensuous accompaniment
throughout and Maria Bayo, a very fine soprano, is spectacularly
at home in this music. She sings, too, with a kind of evangelical
zeal in the rediscovery of the neglected. In a note contributed
to the CD’s booklet she complains that “Music historians in Spain
have been very unfair to these composers, who have been no more
than glimpsed, at best, in the odd set of organ pieces, and are
completely unknown in the regular concert circuit”. Her own claim
is that, in performance many of these arias reveal an “emotional
content … equal to that aroused when we listen to Handel, Gluck
or Mozart”. Whether or not one would want to go quite that far,
it is surely true that sung as well as they are here – Bayo’s
lucidity and brilliant coloratura alike make a forceful case –
these are arias which would surely give great pleasure to admirers
of any of those composers.