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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Goyescas – Opera in Three Tableaux
Nancy Fabiola Herrera (soprano), Lidia Vinyes Curtis (mezzo soprano), Gustavo Peña (tenor), José Antonio López (baritone)
BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Josep Pons
rec. live, Barbican, London, January 2018
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902609 [59:33]

It is usual for a composer to acquire a libretto, and then to create or modify existing musical ideas to enable the creation of an opera to that libretto. In the case Goyescas, the reverse is true. Granados composed in 1911 his two books of Goyescas for piano, containing six pieces. Then he decided that he wanted to compose an opera, using the first five pieces and a later work, El pelele. He also composed new music for two short orchestral interludes.

Consequently, the librettist, Fernando Periquet, had to fit his words to existing music. One supposes, though, that Granados was prepared to adapt the orchestral transcription of the piano score to facilitate the word setting. The entire work plays for an hour, which means that it is suitable as a companion piece to other short operas. And yet, despite its melodic appeal, it is rarely performed. This is, I believe, only its second commercial recording. The recording on an Auvidis Valois CD from 1996 is now only available as expensive second-hand copies or as MP3 downloads.

This new, live recording is presented in a cardboard gatefold sleeve together with a colorfully printed booklet which contains a full libretto in Spanish, French and English. The booklet also contains a description of the work’s genesis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the images on the CD case and booklet fronts are of Goya’s El pelele.

Let me summarise the plot.

Tableau 1:
Madrid 1800. A group of young exotically dressed women toss a straw dummy (pelele) up into the air. Paquiro, the bullfighter, showers compliments on them. His fiancée Pepa arrives, and the two exchange affectionate greetings. Then the aristocratic Rosario arrives, and Paquiro invites her to accompany him to the ball, slighting his fiancée. Fernando objects to Paquiro inviting Rosario, and insists that he will take her to the ball. Meanwhile Pepa is annoyed at her fiancé for inviting someone else to the ball, and plots revenge!

Tableau 2:
A large dimly lit hall where people dance a fast-paced Fandango. Fernando, accompanying Rosario, enters. He is arrogant towards everyone, and goads Paquiro, until a duel is arranged for later that evening.

Tableau 3:
Rosario’s Palace Garden. Seated in here garden, she is enraptured by the sound of a nightingale, and launches into her own song. Fernando, on his way to the duel, joins her, and they sing a passionate duet. She attempts to persuade him abandon the duel, but he ignores her tears and leaves to meet his fate. He is mortally wounded. His body is dragged back to the garden, where Rosario takes him into her arms. When he dies, she falls unconscious by his body.

The libretto has the advantage of simplicity and brevity, and Granados’s quintessentially Spanish music fits it well, as one might expect given the circumstances of its creation.

The first tableau opens vigorously. The chorus represents the majos and majas gathered in a happy group, tossing the straw man (pelele) using a stretched-out canvas. The music proceeds effervescently as Paquiro (baritone) flirts with the majas, and they reply in kind. The entrance of Pepa and later Rosario causes Paquiro to begin to flirt with Rosario (soprano), the chorus commenting on his ‘desertion’ of Pepa (mezzo). This upsets Fernando (tenor), and he insists that he will accompany Rosario; there are more comments from the chorus. Indeed, the chorus is rarely silent throughout this bustling first tableau, which effectively sets the scene for the subsequent lovers’ duet and subsequent tragedy. The tableau ends with the charming five-minute Intermezzo. The first two parts of the piano suite are used extensively in this first tableau, as is the later piece El pelele.
The second tableau opens at a lantern-lit evening dance (fandango), using the third part of the piano suite. The orchestration is brilliant with prominent castanets. The fatal attraction of Fernando and Rosario is made evident, as is Paquiro’s hostility. As in the first tableau, the chorus is very active.

The third and final tableau is preceded by a four-minute Interludio. It begins dramatically, foreshadowing the tragedy to come, and proceeds quietly, slowly and forebodingly, melting into the romantic heart of the opera, as Rosario sings “Why does the nightingale pour out his harmonious song in the gloom of the night?” The famous tune is of Valencian origin. Fernando joins her, and they sing an ecstatic duet. He tells her of his determination to attend the duel. She begs him not to go, but he is adamant. In the final scene, his mortally wounded body is dragged back on stage, and he slowly dies, leaving Rosario desolate.

The performance is excellent. At first, I thought that the baritone, José Antonio López, sounded a little elderly, but his voice freshens as the scenes proceed. The tenor, Gustavo Peña, has a youthful, virile voice, and both female leads have fine, well-differentiated voices. The soprano, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, is admirably suited to her role, which is more significant than that of the mezzo, Lidia Vinyes Curtis, who nevertheless, is excellent. The recording is good, giving splendid weight to the important chorus work in the first two scenes. The audience are silent until the end, and the orchestra sound to be well conducted and committed.

Jim Westhead

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