(Federico Chueca and Joaquín Valverde/Javier de Burgos). Isabel Rey
(Curra), José Bros (El rubio), Ana Ibarra (Una mamá, Una
negrita), Carlos Bergasa (Don Cleto, Lorenzo), Emilio Sánchez (Un
negrito), Luis Álvarez (un ciego), Sonia Gancedo (Señorita 1),
Victoira Marchante (Señorita 2), Gonzalo Burgos (Oficial Inglés
1, Fraile 1), Francisco Santiago (Oficial Inglés 2, Fraile 2). Coro de
la Comunidad de Madrid (d. Jordi Casas Bayer), Orquesta Sinfónica de
Galicia, c. Víctor Pablo Pérez.
Deutsche Grammophon CD 0028947648963 [56:00]
Some musical works acquire a national status beyond the ken of outsiders. Listening to DG’s admirable new recording of Cádiz, I have the sense that I am missing a vital key to unlock the reason why this epic zarzuela is so close to Spanish hearts. I can understand why the Siege of Cádiz (1810-1812) was a historical milestone, not only for Spain’s freedom from the Napoleonic yoke, but also for her constitutional freedoms. I can be stirred by the crucial role played by the British battalions under Sir Thomas Graham in achieving an allied victory over numerically superior French forces. I can revel in Chueca’s marvellous constellation of dance-based songs. But something eludes me.
Perhaps the clue lies in the epoch at which Cádiz was written. In 1886 it cemented the rise and importance of the new género chico, despite being in two acts; and the instant popularity of the (in)famous March, initially as a national rallying call and later as a shameful symbol of Spain’s military defeat in Cuba, still evokes emotion for my Spanish friends. All this is brilliantly outlined in Concha Gómez Marco’s fully detailed booklet note, which highlights another British connection – I certainly wasn’t aware that the March was a favourite of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), who commanded that it be added to the British military band repertoire for ceremonial occasions!
Then there is the fact that the very substantial score encompasses very little of Burgos’s romantic drama, focussing rather on popular song and dance, on celebration rather than the act itself. In this it parallels Dryden and Purcell’s ‘national epic’ King Arthur, a semi-opera which likewise generally eludes understanding beyond English shores. So when I say that I salute the panoramic ambition and historical importance of Cádiz, without ever quite feeling that it reaches the purely musical heights of Chueca and Valverde’s later género chico triumphs, I hope my Madrid friends will forgive me.
Amazingly, this is the first complete recording to achieve significant distribution. Fortunately it is a worthy one, with first-rate soloists and orchestra as well as the outstandingly good Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid – just as well, because the chorus is the real hero of the hour, constantly driving Chueca’s impressively varied dance-based vocal movements. There’s a sevillanas y caleseras, pasacalle, tango-flamenco, panaderos y zapateado, tango and jota, as well as the renowned March itself, which is technically a choral pasodoble. Not content with all this, the composers also throw in a lilting barcarola, another marcha celebrating the new Constitution, and most deliciously of all a catchy polca for two pairs of stiff English officers and highly polite local ladies. This features the phrase “¡Qué dirán los lores!” (‘what will their lordships think?’) which is still heard as an expression of over-affected moral concern. It’s a joyous number.
Of the soloists, José Bros lends his thrilling silver-clarion tone to the final jota, not quite the equal of its closely-related equivalent in La alegría de la huerta, but a stirring conclusion none the less. Isabel Rey is his opulently strong partner in several other numbers. There’s a remarkably raw tango for two negros (Emilio Sánchez and Ana Ibarra) relating the tough tale of a young black girl sweetly seduced then beaten up by a white boy. I don’t think it’s only racial associations which lend this something of the style of a Joplin piano rag. Luis Álvarez contributes another winner, as a blind man relating the jolly story of a peasant struck and killed by lightning despite clutching his “relic of St. Crispin”, a surprisingly bald piece of anti-religious satire to find in an 1886 stage piece.
I’m in two minds about Víctor Pablo Pérez’s conducting, which on first impression lacks fizz. Tempi are on the careful side and there’s not much contrast of mood between succeeding dances. Yet repeated hearings have led me to respect the security, sobriety and taste of his judgement. Once again I recall that this is a score felt by Spanish musicians to stand somewhat apart from Chueca’s farcical ‘champagne moments’, and Pablo Pérez certainly marks out the distance. As for That March, it is done with a combination of lightness and dignity very far removed from jingoistic bombast. He and the chorus get it bang to rights.
I’m in one mind about DG’s highly attractive, lavishly illustrated presentation of Cádiz, particularly welcome after their fall from grace with the CD set of La bruja. No praise can be too high for the care they’ve taken with this issue, providing space for Gómez Marco’s scholarship, but also giving us a full synopsis and complete sung texts. Better still, all these have been splendidly translated by Susannah Howe, who goes the extra mile by providing English notes to explain a handful of allusions otherwise meaningless to non-Spaniards. This is how it should be done! The new Cádiz is self-recommending, but the quality of the supporting booklet (edited by Víctor Pagán) enhances its charms considerably for Spanish and English-speaking audiences alike. No more important zarzuela disc has appeared this decade.
© Christopher Webber, 2013
21 May 2013