Aria 1031 - Maruxa
Original cast photo, Nieto (with lamb) as Maruxa.
The composer is standing, third from left

complete set of Amadeo Vives's 1914 zarzuela
(Barcelona 1930, plus extracts 1914/15)

Aria Les nostres veus retrobades 24
[Aria SL 1031]

Vives's 2-act "pastoral eclogue" has been surprisingly lucky on record. The story, a light comedy in which a pair of lovely but decidedly simple-minded rustics are sexually harassed by a pair of rich, young 'townies' who ought to know better, teeters on the brink of tweeness, especially when it comes to Linda the Lamb, the heroine's four-legged friend. Still, the librettist came up with one really memorable character in Estate overseer Rufo, a comic bass who seems to have wandered in out of Smetana, and Vives's music is as consistent and memorable as anything in Doña Francisquita.

There are three modernish recordings from the 1950's to 70's to choose from, but Aria Recording have come up with a fascinating early alternative. In unearthing the 1930 complete set under Antoni Capdevila they have provided anyone interested in Spanish opera with a tempting rarity, especially given the substantial bonus - 50 minutes of largely original cast recordings from 1914 and 15, giving us glimpses of the original Rosa and Antonio, as well as virile but subtle singing from the young Inocencio Navarro as Pablo. The creator of Maruxa, Ofelia Nieto, sings the title role in both sets. A startlingly mature-sounding 14 at the time of the premiere, she was still only 30 at the time of the Barcelona sessions, which were almost her swansong. Later that year she retired from the stage, and a year later she was dead. The voice, an opulent lyric soprano, had become richer and fuller by 1930 - Joan Vilà's customarily comprehensive notes tell us it was difficult for recording to do it justice - but Nieto's even projection and musicality shine through. Unlike her vocal quality, the characterisation is pallid, but this blandness may well be inherent in the role.

Her sister Ángeles Ottein (Nieto backwards with an additional "t") was a lighter lyric soprano, though she was equally far from being a warbling nightingale. Spoilt, pert Rosa offers the better opportunities to the singer in some ways. Neither soprano has a full-dress solo romanza, but Rosa's dúos with Rufo and Pablo are meatier than Maruxa's with Pablo and Antonio. Ottein makes the most of Rosa's 'hots' for the shepherd Pablo - there's a voracious sexual hunger in her singing which no later performer on record quite matches.

The shepherd himself is intriguingly guested by an Italian. Carlo Galeffi already had over 30 years' experience in theatres such as La Scala Milan behind him when he recorded Maruxa, and he was to carry on singing into his seventies. He played Pablo on stage in Madrid, where he also created Puck in the inflated, operatic version of Las golondrinas in 1929. As you'd expect from one of the most esteemed Rigolettos of the period, Galeffi's immaculate technique easily lightens his powerful, lyric baritone for Vives's softer demands. At this stage of his career, there was the occasional suggestion of a bleat in the middle register, but the top of Galeffi's voice was still wondrously easy, dynamics are miraculously shaded, and his characteristic quick vibrato is used to touching musical effect in Pablo's final romanza without becoming intrusive.

Bass Aníbal Vela was never well-known outside Spain, but turns in the best sung Rufo on record, massive, heavy yet mellifluous. Capdevila's tempi, perhaps surprisingly for the era of short sides, are broad and flexible without ruining dramatic momentum. The Act 2 Preludio sounds solid if inevitably constricted, but the Thunderstorm goes notably well, and some surprising detail elsewhere - especially some prominent writing for glockenspiel - emerges more clearly here than on the later sets. Although only twenty years or so were to pass before Argenta recorded Maruxa with Rosado, Lorengar and Ausensi, the vocal values on the earlier recording sound a world away. This 1930's Barcelona set is one of the most instructive documents of zarzuela on record, and Joan Vilà's excellent transfers do it full justice. More than that, it remains a rich musical experience in its own right, and for my money is Aria's best release yet.

© Christopher Webber 2000

Aria Recording

other issues in the series of particular interest to the zarzuela:

SL 1008 Los nostres veus retrobades - Vol.1 (zarzuela and opera anthology)
SL 1011 Doña Francisquita (Vendrell, Pérez Carpio, Herrero, Palacios)
SL 1007 Marina (2 CD complete - Capsir, Lázaro, Redondo, Mardones; plus highlights with Fleta, Revenga, Sagi Barba)
SL 1016 Mercedes Capsir (including some rare zarzuela songs)
SL 1015 Bohemios / Los Gavilanes (Redondo, Raga, Vendrell)
SL 1018 Marcos Redondo (zarzuela duets)
SL 1022 Los nostres veus retrobades - Vol.2 (opera, zarzuela and songs)
SL 1024 La Sarsuela Catalana
SL 1027 El Dictador - La Dogaresa
SL 1028 Miguel Fleta - Vol.3 (zarzuela and songs)
SL 1029 Martierra etc.
SL 1030 Conchita Supervia - (2 CD complete Opera and selected zarzuela recordings)

Aria's website:

Maruxa - synopsis
1930 Barcelona Recording (Aria Recording)
Amadeo Vives - biography

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