Although this concert was programmed for March 13th it was delayed for 24 hours, since that day official mourning - a gesture of sorrow for the Madrid terrorist attacks of March 11th - had been decreed in Spain. I should like to pay emotional tribute to the victims and roundly condemn violence of all kinds. I also want to express my gratitude to those people from so many places who have shown their support and who have helped make the tragic reality more bearable to those of us who have been close to it. As the title of this baroque opera might put it, "with their love they have increased our courage." Heartfelt thanks.
Amor aumenta el valor ("Love Augments Valour"), a musical drama in three acts to an original libretto by José de Cañizares with music by José de Nebra (Act 1), Felipe Falconi (Act 2) and Jaime Facco (Act 3), was first performed in 1728 at the palace of the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon, on the occasion of the double betrothal of the heirs apparent of Spain and Portugal with the infantas of the two royal families. This work was preceded by a loa with music by Jaime Facco. In addition an intermezzo (La cuenta del gallego) and sainete (La estatua de Prometeo) were presented. These other parts of the fiesta were also penned by José de Cañizares. Neither the music for Acts 2 and 3 nor that for the intermezzo and sainete have been preserved. So it is that the drama can only be sung incomplete. Obviously to stage Act 1 with music and the second and third without would have totally undermined the theatrical effect of the work.
In its musical content and dramatic structure Amor aumenta el valor takes wing from the Italian baroque opera tradition, which met with a ready welcome in the Iberian nations during the second decade of the 18th century. Jaime Facco and Felipe Falconi, musical collaborators with José de Nebra here, Italians by birth and training before being called to the Spanish court, naturally incorporated Italian musical techniques into their Hispanic commission. On the other hand Nebra takes on in this work an Italian accent, adapting to the required style with ease, having perfectly assimilated their foreign ways.
The work has a historical theme - something common to Italian operas of the day - rather than the mythological one characteristic of baroque zarzuela. Nevertheless it includes humorous characters, the trademark of Hispanic theatre from the Golden Age. We have therefore an Italo-Spanish dramatic hybrid. Nebra's music is organized into recitatives and arias, and he concludes his Act with a duet. Yet again the Italian formal structure is infused with distinct Spanish elements which contribute colour or harness the humour of the graceful comedy roles. The fact that the opera was interspersed with an intermezzo and sainete would have ensured that the whole work took on an unequivocally Spanish character.
The opera's plot is taken from Titus Livius; it tells of the heroic defence of Rome by Horacio (Horatius) before the Etruscan hordes. This story would have been interpreted as a calling card for the Spanish prince to the Lisbon court: the virtues of Fernando de Bourbon demonstrated before his fiancée would be those of a new Horatius, that is to say valour and conjugal fidelity. The loa presents an idealised vision of the princely pair to be - the allegorical characters bear the names of the virtues of María Bárbara de Braganza.
There were several reasons behind the idea of offering a work of musical theatre such as Amor aumenta el valor in concert rather than fully staged. First, this was an experiment as to how a project of this kind given by a group El concierto español specializing in baroque and pre-classic Hispanic repertoire would work in this theatre, at the same time making the experiment in as economical a form as possible. Second, it met the challenge of putting an incomplete drama on stage.
To perform a stage piece in concert version runs the risk of annulling its dramatic dimension; to do this with baroque repertoire aggravates the situation by making it difficult to evoke the historico-social circumstances that generated the spectacle or of the physical framework for which this one was created. Emilio Moreno was very conscious of the great risk attending the de-contextualisation of a baroque fiesta, not only the opera itself, and for that reason he admitted the limitations of concert presentation to the audience in his programme notes. Then again his editorial work on the original manuscript went beyond pure transcription of the score, involving the recomposition of those parts that 18th century annotation practice habitually omitted, as being too common and well-known to need spelling out. He also had to emend details that were surely down to compositional haste and lack of later corrective opportunity. In any event he worked to approach the musical spirit of the composer and his time more closely through a conscientious reading of the music that he transcribed.
The interpretation that El concierto español gave was absolutely outstanding. The band played with elegant sensitivity, continually clarifying the textures and accompanying the singers exquisitely. Four soprano soloists took the seven sung roles of Act 1, which brought about the paradoxical situation whereby some phrases of the work had to be omitted so that a singer did not have to engage in dialogue with herself! María Luz Álvarez played the heroine Clelia, outstanding in her virtuoso aria "Sopla el bóreas irritado...". Ruth Rosique doubled the roles of the hero Horacio (given the more sensual "¡Ay amor!, ¡Ay Clelia mía!...") and of Porcia (an agile reading of "Como el céfiro corre agitado..."). Raquel Andueza was notably attractive in the comedy role of Calfurnia (the delicious "Galanura, qué locura...") and equally dignified in the role of Porsena ("Más fácil será al viento..."). Isabel Álvarez took the graceful Mimo (making an eloquent answer to Calfurnia's aria with the no less fresh "Sopla hacia allí...") and Libio (the grandiloquent "Al arma oculto, generoso ardor..."). All of them shone vocally and well merited the unanimous audience ovation.
The success of this musical event was nonetheless clouded by the sparsity of the audience which gathered on that strange day - the day of the general election, the only reason for not extending the time of official mourning. Let us hope that the limited resonance for this event brought about by those unhappy circumstances will not jeopardise future projects of El concierto español, in reviving Spanish baroque repertoire at the Teatro de la Zarzuela.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro, 2004
Amor aumenta el valor, drama
armónico, Concert version