E. B. Marks

María la O


Conductor Score
ed. Evan Hause

Edward B. Marks Music Company, New York (2013)

Maria la O - title page (E.B.Marks)

One of the fundamental barriers to the rehabilitation of zarzuela cubana has been the lack of decent performing editions. Aside from material set down from memory by Cuban emigrants to Florida, New York and elsewhere even E. B. Marks, the New York publishers of the two most important Cuban zarzuela composers Lecuona and Roig, have struggled along for half a century with piecemeal sources of tattered vocal scores (often just of individual songs), libretti of doubtful provenance plus whatever orchestral material they could find. As for what may be in the Havana archives … well, to quote from my 2009 zarzuela.net review of Susan Thomas’s excellent Cuban Zarzuela:

Ernesto Lecuona (stamp)"Revolution, tropical weather and termites have played their part in the dispersal and destruction of libretti, musical manuscripts and performing materials. None of these zarzuelas, not even the celebrated María La O or Cecilia Valdés, have been published. Some of the most tantalising, such as Roig’s El Clarín, are unperformable owing to the loss of the libretto. Others, such as the same composer’s La busca-bulla, lack music."

It’s therefore with pleasure and relief that I can report that E. B. Marks’s Publications Director Evan Hause has been very busy over the last couple of years. First came a decent, newly edited full score for Cecilia Valdés, which has been used in performances in Granada and A Coruña – the latter with the Sinfónica de Galicia, who may have recorded it. Now he has taken on an even more tricky assignment: the editing of a workable full score for Lecuona’s María la O. Tricky, because the amount of contemporary orchestral material available is negligible, whilst memorial manuscripts, vocal scores and even copies of the libretto pose as many questions as they solve.

Ernesto LecuonaThe problems were almost insuperable, so Hause made the sensible decision to base his work on what we hear in the well-loved (abridged) recording arranged and conducted by Félix Guerrero, who had strong links with the composer and could be expected to know the kind of orchestral palette and counterpoint he had in mind. The 1990 Artex/EGREM recording from Havana starring Alina Sánchez was also quarried, though it proved less useful, rearranging much of the zarzuela generically to suit the taste of its time, as well as incorporating material from elsewhere in Lecuona’s output. He also had access to a partially filled-out score in F. Guerrero’s own handwriting (possibly memorial), Pablo Zinger’s materials for the 2001 New York production, a tattered and well-nigh illegible handwritten vocal score, and a crumbling libretto.

Hause was not aiming to produce an academic urtext, even if such a thing were possible; but a clear, clean and practical working version with clear tempi and dynamic markings, drawing on the best from those earlier models to encourage performances around the world. The new edition received its premiere on March 21st at the Las Palmas Conservatory, and we may hope this will only be the first of many.

Maria la O - Salida (perusal E.B.Marks)From what I’ve been able to see of it – a binder of about thirty-five sample pages of the conductor’s score - the result is extremely useful and attractive, both for its musicality and the clean, uncluttered look of the engravure. The orchestration is spot on for a medium-sized zarzuela orchestra, with the addition of the percussive Batería Cubana of bongos, claves, maracas, woodblocks and all the rest, which make up that unique, rhythmic backdrop to so many of Lecuona’s most memorable numbers. As a percussionist himself, Hause has expended lavishly detailed attention to this department, and quite right too. Dynamics and tempi look intuitively right. F. Guerrero has not been followed slavishly, but (to take one example) his use of solo violin and harp colouration has been utilised and developed to tasteful effect. Some of Guerrero’s countermelodies in, say, María’s romanza (and incorporated by Hause) do sound a little “1950’s” over-romantic: it’s interesting to compare his work here against the composer’s own, in a 1960 recording with Maruja González and the Havana Symphony Orchestra, where string counterpoint is more sparingly used and the overall orchestral palette is harder and clearer, to my ears closer to Sorozábal and Weill.

This caveat aside, Evan Hause’s edition is a major cause for rejoicing. No longer can managements in Spain or the Americas plead “lack of materials” as a reason for failing to programme María la O and Cecilia Valdés. Susan Thomas’s complaints, and our own here on zarzuela.net, have not fallen on deaf ears. E. B. Marks are to be congratulated on doing a good deed in a naughty world.

© Christopher Webber 2013

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