la villana - Blue Moon BM7553

La villana &
Bergamino el lampo

(Amadeo Vives)

Historic Recordings from 1927 & 1922

Blue Moon BMCD 7553

Following on from Los flamencos (BMCD 7551) Blue Moon's Serie Lírica continues to bring the pre-war recordings of Amadeo Vives back into the light of day. Here we have substantial highlights from his magnum opus La villana, plus four numbers from the unsuccessful zarzuela he wrote immediately before Doña Francisquita, Bergamino el lampo (1922). Pleasant but unmemorable, the three solos and dúo from this three act zarzuela with an Italian setting help explain why Vives' score was swiftly forgotten. They are well enough sung by baritone Pablo Gorgé and tenor Arturo de Castro, but rarity value apart don't significantly increase the artistic attraction of this release.

La villana, Romero and Shaw's mediaeval Spanish romance based on a tragi-comedy by Lope de Vega, is certainly the composer's most ambitious work, and the 1927 recordings are of particular interest. Odeón's 16 sides feature many of the original Madrid cast, notably the great soprano Felisa Herrero in the title role, and encompass two numbers omitted from the work's only LP recording (still scandalously unavailable on CD). Both the reapers' song - engagingly sung by comedy tenor Antonio Palacios and the chorus - and an Intermedio, alternating an antique, courtly dance with distant military fanfares, prove very well worth hearing.

Herrero's Casilda, the Yeoman's Wife of the title, comes across with a vivid fire and abandon which is in marked contrast to the dreamy poise of Monserrat Caballé in the modern set, one of her own finest recordings. As her yeoman-husband Peribañéz Pablo Gorgé exhibits the staunch, burnished-oak tone which made him one of the most sought-after bass-baritone of his time, though the recording also reveals a lack of security in his vocal upper branches. Still, his plea before the King in the final scene has a natural nobility lacking from Vicente Sardinero's admittedly better sung account opposite Caballé, and the great dúo-scenes with Herrero come across with stirring emotional and musical power.

As the villainous nobleman Don Fadrique, tenor Mateo Guitart is uningratiating in his 1st Act dúo with Herrero, tuning and phrasing clumsily awry. Although hardly subtle, he pulls himself together for the famous Serenade - a showpiece recorded by Fleta and Kraus amongst others - and is in much better voice for the passionate scene immediately before his character's death. In the subsidiary role of David, bass Victoriano Redondo del Castillo is consistently successful. His dark timbre and distinctive, fast vibrato are vocally reminiscent of the late, lamented Julio Catania, and he gives as good as he gets in a dramatic dúo with Gorgé. Orchestral-choral contributions under the zarzuela's first conductor Juan Antonio Martínez are lively and secure.

Blue Moon's absorbing documentation is generally praiseworthy, with some inexplicable lapses. Redondo del Castillo is denied his Christian name; and - bizarrely - Guitart's name, Christian or otherwise, is not mentioned at all except in the contemporary press reviews. The tenor numbers are apparently sung by one "Ocaña", the last part of his character's name! Was this how he was billed on the original Odeón 78s? Possibly, but there's no excuse at this juncture not to credit his workmanlike tenor correctly. What's worse, the transfers of some admittedly intractable originals leave something to be desired, not least in that Blue Moon presents every number a semitone flat. It's unlikely Odeón recorded it this way, and by ear the singers - notably Gorgé - simply don't sound like themselves at this saggy pitch. It would have been easy enough for Blue Moon to have corrected matters. So, despite the great intrinsic interest of music and performance, this release can only be greeted with modified rapture.

© Christopher Webber 2002

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