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Sebastián DURÓN (1660 - 1716)
La guerra de los gigantes
Olalla Alemán, Pilar Alva, Solomía Antonyak, Soledad Cardoso, Eva Juárez, Aurora Peña, Llaura Sabatel (soprano), Marta Infante (mezzo-soprano), Luis David Barrios (tenor)
Orquestra Barroca de Granada, Íliber Ensemble/Darío Moreno
Recorded 2018 at the Auditorio Manuel De Falla, Granada, Spain
Texts without translations downloadable at the IBS Classical website
IBS CLASSICAL IBS132019 [75:37]

Sebastián Durón is one of the most important Spanish composers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He was educated as organist; his first teacher was Andrés de Sola, organist of the cathedral of La Seo, Zaragoza. After holding several positions as organist in Seville, Burgo de Osma and Palencia, he was appointed second organist at the royal chapel in Madrid; in 1702 he took the position of maestro de capilla. Since entering the royal chapel he not only wrote sacred music, but also various works for the stage. It was especially this part of his activities which was highly appreciated.

His career came to an abrupt halt during the War of the Spanish Succession. This war was the result of Charles II, the last Habsburg King of Spain, dying without a heir in 1700. Attempts to solve the problem by dividing the empire among the candidates for the throne failed. Charles II designated Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France (representing the house of Bourbon), as his successor. But a coalition of other countries, fearing French dominance of the continent, supported Emperor Leopold I's claim to the whole Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles. The strong anti-French feelings in Catalonia led to support for Charles and the Allied cause. In 1705 Barcelona was taken by the Allied forces and Charles settled here until the city was conquered by the Bourbon party in 1714. Durón took the side of the Habsburgs, and as a result, he lost his positions and had to go into exile. He spent the rest of his life in southern France, where he entered the service of Maria Anna of Neuburg, second wife of the Spanish King Charles II, who had a court in Bayonne.

La Guerra de los Gigantes is an opéra scénica in one act and dates from 1702. It was dedicated to the Count of Salvatierra, probably the 5th Count of Salvatierra, José Francisco Sarmiento de Sotomayor y Velasco. The work takes as its starting point the myth - from the first book of Ovid's Metamorphoses - of the earth-dwelling Giants, who wish to conquer Olympus displacing the gods from there, before in the end being easily defeated. The belligerent character of the story explains the presence of a trumpet in the instrumental ensemble.

The opera is divided into an introducción (a kind of prologue) and six escenas. There are eight characters. Four of them participate only in the introducción: La Fama (Fame), El Tiempo (Time), La Immortalidad (Immortality) and El Silencio (Silence). In the six scenes we meet Palante, Júpiter, Minerva and Hércules. All the roles are for high voices, soprano or mezzo-soprano. The list of performers includes a tenor, but no role is mentioned, and I can't figure out what part he sings. In a previous recording (Rogério Gonçalves; Pan Classics, 2013) no male singer participates.

La Guerra de los Gigantes is one of the first compositions in Spanish music history which was called an opera. However, as Raúl Angulo Díaz argues in the liner-notes, it has little similarity with the Italian opera. It includes just one recitative and one arieta. The solos have the traditional form of estribillo and coplas, just like one of the most popular forms of sacred music, the villancico. The most Italian part is probably in the fifth scene where Minerva stabs Palante, the general of the giants, who then dies very slowly. Here we find a strong contrast between the triumphant singing of Minerva and the expressions of suffering by Palante: "¡ Ay, ay, ay!" In the closing scene the victory of the gods is celebrated; it ends with a chorus.

There is much to enjoy here, thanks to the lively character of this opera and the alert and engaging performance by all participants. Unfortunately, those who don't understand Spanish, will not be able to follow the story. The libretto can be downloaded from the site of the record label, but comes without an English translation. That is a big shame, and is one of the major shortcomings of this production. The singers deliver fine performances, but I regret the incessant vibrato of Marta Infante; I have heard better performances from her in the past. The pauses between some of the tracks are a bit too long, which damages the natural flow of the proceedings. There are slight differences in the text between the this recording and the one I mentioned above. In Gonçalves's performance the fifth scene - the one which includes Palante's arieta - ends with a short solo by the same character: "Jove, Hércules, Minerva, Dioses", which is absent here. It is not discussed in the liner-notes.

Gonçalves's performance is my first choice, but this new recording is certainly worth having.

Johan van Veen