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Enrique GRANADOS (1867 – 1916)
María del Carmen - Opera in Three Acts (1898) [103:21] (1898)
Diana Veronese (soprano) – María del Carmen; Larisa Kostyuk (mezzo) – Concepción; Silvia Vázquez (soprano) – Fuensanta; Jesús Suaste (baritone) – Pencho; Dante Alcalá (tenor) – Javier; Gianfranco Montresor (baritone) – Domingo; David Curry (tenor) – Don Fulgencio; Alberto Arrabal (baritone) – Pepuso; Stewart Kempster (bass) – Migalo; Ricardo Mirabelli (tenor) – Antón; Alex Ashworth (baritone) – Roque; Nicholas Sharratt (tenor) – Andrés; Vicenç Esteve (tenor) – Un cantaor huertano; Wexford Festival Opera Chorus, National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus/Max Bragado-Darman
rec. live, Theatre Royal, Wexford, Ireland, 23, 26, 29 October 2003.
Previously issued on Marco Polo 8.225292-93.
The Spanish libretto is available online
NAXOS 8.660144-45 [43:33 + 59:48]

Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Manuel de Falla are regarded as the most significant representatives of Spanish nationalism in music during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Granados is probably best known for his piano compositions and songs, but he also wrote music for the stage. The last and most famous of these was the opera Goyescas, based on his piano suite with the same title. This was inspired by the paintings of his compatriot Goya. That work, completed in 1915, was intended for the Paris Opéra, but due to the war this wasn’t possible and instead it was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 28 January 1916. With names like Giovanni Martinelli and Giuseppe De Luca in the cast and presented in a double bill with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci it was a great success. Granados himself attracted a lot of attention, including an invitation from President Wilson to play at the White House. As a result of this he was unable to catch the boat for his return voyage to Spain and instead took a passage to England, and then went by ferry across the English Channel to Dieppe in France. The ferry was torpedoed by a German submarine and Granados drowned when he tried to save his wife - a bitterly sad end to a successful visit.

Granados' first opera, Maria del Carmen, was also a success, at least at the premiere in Madrid on 11 November 1898, where it ran for nineteen performances. When it arrived in Catalonia, half a year later, it met with strong protests from the locals who disliked Granados, himself a Catalan, but one who had distanced himself from Catalan culture. Maria del Carmen had neither Catalan plot nor Catalan music. In spite of this it had a run of eleven performances and was even briefly revived at the end of the year. It was also played a few times in Valencia, but then it wasn’t seen anywhere until 1935, when it was produced in Barcelona with Conchita Badia in the title role. The rest is silence, presumably until 2003, when this recording was made during performances at the Wexford Festival.

Granados regarded Maria del Carmen as his best opera and Queen Maria Cristina awarded him the Charles III Cross after the initial run in Madrid. It has been described as a Spanish version of Cavalleria rusticana with a happy ending. It is set in the region of Murcia in a village where a poor farmer Pencho is in love with Maria. In a fight over water rights Pencho has wounded the wealthy landowner Javier and has fled to Algeria. Maria nursed Javier during Pencho’s absence – and Javier has fallen in love with her: the traditional love triangle. When Pencho returns Maria tells him that she has promised to marry Javier to save Pencho from prosecution. He can’t accept this and at a fiesta the two men meet and agree to a duel. When the duel is about to start the doctor arrives revealing that Javier is dying of tuberculosis. Nothing can save him. Javier is then reconciled with Pencho and Maria and helps them to escape.

It is almost 120 years since Maria del Carmen created such a controversy in Barcelona. Today we need not bother about whether the flavour of the music is Catalan or just Spanish in a more general sense. The score is atmospheric and rich with melodies and the Prelude, which adds a chorus for the last couple of minutes, is a fine piece, which could be an attractive part of a programme with both orchestra and chorus present. The Prelude to act III is also good, possibly the most beautiful number in the opera. Maria’s entrance, Canción de la Zagalica (CD 1 tr. 7) is another highlight.

The singing is good with some of the participants standing out. David Curry as Don Fulgencio, the doctor, is a strong personality. Dante Alcalá, (Javier) sports a beautiful tenor and Gianfranco Montresor (Javier’s father, Domingo) is a pleasure to listen to. Silvia Vázquez (Fuensanta) is another memorably good singer. The powerful choral contributions should also be mentioned.

Spanish-speaking readers will find the libretto available online. Those with limited or no knowledge of Spanish will be fully satisfied with the detailed synopsis in the booklet.

While Maria del Carmen is hardly an indispensable opera it still has a great deal to offer and lovers of Spanish music of the period should definitely give it a try.

Göran Forsling

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett (Naxos) ~ Christopher Webber (Marco Polo)


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