La Zarzuela DVD

La Zarzuela DVD SAO1625Katiuska

Video director: Rufino Vigil

Teatro Arriaga – Fundación de la Zarzuela Española

La Zarzuela DVD SAO1625
(80 mins)

[Rec. Teatro Arriaga, Bilbao
26 September 2008.
Cast and production credits]

The cameras were rolling the night I saw this sumptuous show live in Bilbao’s Teatro Arriaga. Here are the results, handsomely boxed and presented, with a booklet featuring synopsis, articles and biographies, as well as a generous selection of production stills. Menus and DVD mastering are slick. Better still, there are subtitles, in Spanish and perfect English oddly sprinkled with a handful of stray Spanish phrases. Everything oozes quality.

No need to rehearse again my description of Emilio Sagi’s radical staging, except to warn purchasers that what they will see is a Katiuska distilled into one act and 80 minutes. All the music is there apart from the Act 2 Preludio, an orchestral repeat of the march “Cosacos de Kazán”. Little of the dialogue remains, and less of the plot. Does it matter? Plays have a habit of dating faster than their music, and Katiuska’s text has dated worse than many. It’s a controversial decision, but to my way of thinking little is lost and everything is gained by focussing exclusively on Sorozábal’s score, especially when it’s as well done as here. The Boston Waltz is surely too fast, and there is a moment of fuzzy logic at the top of the cabaret-style“A París me voy”: otherwise David Giménez Carreras and the Bilbao Orchestra prove exemplary executors.

Maite Alberola's Erte-draped KatiuskaThe filming has been sensitively managed, with plenty of long shots to give a true impression of the birch-box, gilt picture-frame set. As so often with operatic small-screen transfers drama zooms out as the camera zooms in. Performances which convince at theatrical distance lose focus in close up. Wandering eyes and blank expressions blemish Ángel Ódena’s and Enrique Baquerizo’s contributions. Milagros Martín gets caught trying too hard too often to be the life and soul of the party. The comic delicacy of Trinidad Iglesias, though, loses nothing in translation; whilst Maite Alberola’s Erté-draped Katiuska and Jon Plazaola’s urbane yet faintly salacious Prince approach televisual as well as musical perfection.

Audio is more troubled. You can choose Dolby Digital 2.0, or 5.1 which provides a nice touch of background ambience. But though quality is generally good there’s a singer bias which obscures some of the juicier orchestral effects. There’s also a brief bad patch of lapel mike distortion (from Bilbao’s taxis?) marring Alberola’s gorgeous “Vivía sola”, as well as a spliced-in E and F sharp for Ódena at the climax of “La mujer Rusa”. It sounds like Manuel Ausensi. It does not sound like Ángel Ódena, who mimes it poorly. Shades perhaps of Schwarzkopf’s interpolated High C’s for Flagstad in the Furtwängler Tristan … but who knows? It’s a most curious interpolation.

That aside, I was every bit as gripped and moved by the score as I had been in the theatre. Especially for non-Spaniards less bothered by the wholesale removal of dialogue, this is one of the finest DVDs of an important zarzuela production to find public release. It’s an issue which does Teatro Arriaga and their co-sponsors proud – not to mention the Fundación de la Zarzuela, who for once have pressed the right (or do I mean left?) button.

© Christopher Webber 2009

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7 December 2009