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Federico Moreno TORROBA (1891-1982)
Luisa FernandaLyric Comedy in Three Acts (1932)
Plácido Domingo (baritone) – Vidal Hernando; Nancy Herrera (mezzo) – Luisa Fernanda; Mariola Cantarero (soprano) – The Duchess Carolina; José Bros (tenor) – Javier Moreno; Raquel Pierotti (mezzo) – Mariana; Javier Ferrer (tenor) – Aníbal; Sabina Puértolas (soprano) – Rosita; Federico Gallar (baritone) – Don Luis Nogales; Ángel Rodríguez (tenor) – The Savoyard; Juan Antonio Sanabria (tenor) – Street-Seller and Fan-Seller; Montserrat Muñumel (actress) – Coconut-Seller; David Rubiera (actor) – Porras; Tomeu Biblioni (tenor) – Don Lucas; José Antonio Ferrer (actor) – Don Florito Fernández; Miguel Borrallo (bass) – First Young Man; Julio Cendal (tenor) – Second Young Man; José Manuel Cardama (tenor) – A Man; Juan Navarro (tenor) – A Captain; Joseba Pinela (actor) – One of the Harvesters
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real Madrid/Jesús López Cobos
Libretto by Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernández Shaw
rec. Teatro Real, Madrid 28 June, 13-16 July 2006
Spanish libretto and English translation included.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4765825 [75:29] 


Experience Classicsonline

The zarzuela in general and Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda in particular have been of considerable importance in the life of Placido Domingo. The nature (or at least something of the nature) of that importance is pithily summed up in a recent interview/feature on Domingo in La Scena (Vol. 2.1, Autumn 2008). Domingo repeats there what he has said more than once before: “I owe my love of music to my parents, who were wonderful singers who ran a zarzuela company in
Mexico. I practically grew up backstage, and always loved the zarzuelas I so often heard during my childhood. My sister and I were often pressed into service onstage when children were needed…”. Before they ran their own company, Domingo’s parents worked with a company led by Federico Moreno Torroba, composer of Luisa Fernanda, and Domingo has always insisted that his father was one of the very finest interpreters of the role of Vidal Hernando in that opera. In another way, too, Luisa Fernanda was pivotally instrumental in Domingo’s career. “I was very comfortable performing zarzuela baritone roles, which tend to be for high baritones … Once, when I was touring with my father, the tenor fell ill, and I was asked to replace him for a performance of Luisa Fernanda. I will never forget it. Although I continued to sing as a baritone after that, when I auditioned for the Mexican National Opera at the age of eighteen, the committee told me that was really a tenor”. Now the wheel comes something like full circle – here we have Domingo singing the baritone role of Vidal Hernando, one of his father’s signature roles.

Luisa Fernanda was premiered (very successfully) on 26th March 1932, at the Teatro Calderón in Madrid. Its creators – librettists and composer alike – were already pretty well established and successful figures in the world of zarzuela. Luisa Fernanda is set in 1868, in the run up to the revolution that led to the overthrow of Isabella II and her replacement by Amadeo of Savoy (the booklet to this present recording includes a useful background account of Spanish history in the nineteenth century, which helps to put the work into context). The first two acts are set in Madrid, the third on the border with Portugal, in Extremadura. In terms of plot the opera centres upon the relationships between the wealthy landowner from Extremadura, Vidal Hernando, the younger Hussar, Colonel Javier Moreno and the woman they both love, Luisa Fernanda. As well as being rival wooers, the two men are on opposite sides politically – Javier Moreno supports the Monarchist cause and Vidal Hernando is a Liberal. A further complication is added by the presence of the Duchess Carolina, who is attracted to Javier. Javier appears to prefer the Duchess and, partly out of anger at this, Luisa agrees to marry Vidal. Now the two men are settled enemies and, through the efforts of Vidal, Javier is captured by Liberal militia. But Luisa contrives his initial freedom before he is rescued by the Monarchists. In Act III, on Vidal’s estate, preparations for the marriage of Vidal and Luisa are underway, when Javier unexpectedly arrives. He begs Luisa to forgive his earlier behaviour; she refuses, but Vidal discerns that in truth she still loves the younger man and nobly releases her from their engagement. The libretto, without being absolutely explicit about the matter seems to suggest that she leaves with Javier, though in performance the ending can readily be interpreted so as to leave her (and the audience) in a state of irresolution - rather like the ending of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure – does Isabella actually respond positively to the Duke’s proposal of marriage?

The passions and idealisms, the jealousies and nobilities of the story give Torroba plenty of opportunities – which he doesn’t neglect – for some passionate music, emotionally expressive and full of Spanish colour. There’s an abundance of attractive tunes and some radiant orchestral writing – if Joaquin Rodrigo had written opera perhaps this is the kind of thing he might have written. The conducting of Jesús López Cobos unsurprisingly demonstrates an innate understanding of the idiom and the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real sing and play with utter conviction. The team of soloists is generally of a very high standard. Domingo is dignified and moving as Vidal, much of his singing both an aural joy and full of dramatic truth. The young Catalan tenor José Bros is very impressive, with some ringing high notes and graceful lines, and he characterises the role very strikingly, with a degree of pride and self-congratulation that makes excellent psychological sense. Nancy Herrera makes a thoroughly plausible Luisa, vividly characterised and sung with passion and grace; Mariola Cantarero perhaps has a less intrinsically attractive voice, but she brings an entirely appropriate hauteur to role as the Duchess. Many of the minor roles – notably the Rosita of Sabina Puértolas – are sung with winning vivacity.

The whole makes delightful and engaging listening, well recorded with a plausible aura of the live theatre (the audience’s presence is never intrusive but always felt). There is a sense in which the recording (and the production of which – with a few cast changes – it is a memorial) is Domingo’s tribute to his family and his musical origins. But, even putting that aspect of things to one side, this is a CD – well packaged and annotated – which will delight every aficionado of zarzuela.

Glyn Pursglove


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