Coming across new music-theatre from the Spanish baroque repertoire, whether zarzuela, opera, or anything else, is always an exciting experience. When the music of any such novelty bears the signature Sebastián Durón (1660-1716) we may well suspect that the discovery will leave its mark. Add to that the fact that the group responsible for the revival bring a love beyond the bounds of duty to what they do, then we can be in no doubt that to miss such an event would be unforgivable.
The Museo de los Orígenes in Casa de San Isidro, in the heart of Baroque Madrid, presented a fine exhibition on tonadilla escénica some time ago. Now it has sponsored an ambitious series of concerts, which under the slightly confusing title Music of the Three Queens attempted to review the work of the composers working in the Spanish court during the first half of the eighteenth century. The series collected together a diverse roster, from cantatas, songs and opera arias by Francisco Courcelle and Antonio Rodríguez de Hita, through zarzuelas by José de Nebra – selections from Viento es la dicha de Amor and Ifigenia en Tracia – to chamber works by composers including Antonio Soler and Juan (or José) Pla and the famous keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.
The zarzuela armónica by Durón and Cañizares with which the series concluded is difficult to date with certainty, but it seems likely to have been written not long before 1711. It was possibly intended for Madrid’s public theatres, as Durón did not enjoy much royal patronage after the dynastic change at the turn of the century. Precisely because his political situation was not very stable in this last stage of his life (he went into French exile) it is especially significant that his work continued to be in demand, in a Madrid now much more geared to an Italianate musical style. Durón was however a chameleon composer – no disrespect intended – who changed his stylistic spots according to whether he was writing for the church, or for the theatre. His zarzuelas and operas, talented essays in the Italian mode, are nevertheless thoroughly Hispanic, especially when it comes to the means by which the music drama is integrated.
We were given a lightly staged presentation of the first of the two jornadas [ed. a theatrical unit, literally meaning “day”, but roughly equivalent to the English “act”] which make up Las nuevas armas de Amor. Cañizares wrote a mythological story about a mischievous Cupid whom Jupiter strips of his bow and arrow after protests from the people of Cyprus. The disarmed god plots his revenge by seeking help from Diana (which comes in the form of new weapons) and creating chaos among the Cypriots as they honour Jupiter’s statue. This jornada ends with the cementing of the alliance between Cupid and Diana, just before the declaration of war with Jupiter. Durón responded to the text with a weighty theatrical score full of inspired moments clearly in Italianate mode, comprised in the form of arietas, recitados and coros.
I’d pick out for special notice Cupid’s aria a la italiana “Cuántos teméis al rigor” from the second scene; his subsequent estribillo “Claras fuentes” in the same scene, a number in several contrasted sections with constant changes in tempo; and his hugely vivacious coplas “¡Ha, del palacio sumo!”. Raquel Andueza served up all these sweetmeats with her characteristic expressivity and beautiful phrasing. Jupiter’s coplas y estribillo from the fifth scene “Por amar a la rosa” provided by contrast a moment of solemn melancholy enabling Ana Otxoa to show off her vocal firmness and elegant sense of line. Just after this came a coplas sung in duet by Cupid and Diana, in which role Inmaculada Pérez showed a lightweight agility and elegance contrasting nicely with Andueza’s vocal power.
An inevitable drawback of this concert was the loss of full dramatic sense provided by a genuine staging, although perhaps this was less important because we were presented with just one jornada in a single concert (which also cut out a “popular” sub-plot), from a spectacle that at the time would have also featured the customary loa [ed. a prologue of praise], a comic sainete interspersed between the two jornadas and a fin de fiesta to round things off. Coming back to the musical team, we should praise the harpsichordist Tony Millán, who acquitted himself well, lending harmonic support to Durón’s score with huge personality. Grover Wilkins – quite aside from sharing the essential role of narrator with the museum’s director, Eduardo Salas – conducted with a strong yet graceful beat, and the Orquesta Madrid Barroco responded with agile flexibility and strong unanimity.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2007
Las nuevas armas de
Amor (zarzuela armónica in two jornadas with
music by Sebastián Durón and text by José de
Cañizares) – selection from the 1st jornada, in concert.
Ciclo de Conciertos La música de las tres reinas. Madrid,
auditorio del Museo de los Orígenes (Casa de San Isidro), concierto V,
22 November 2007
24 January 2008