Barbieri: Como nací en la calle de la Paloma (El barberillo de Lavapiés); Bizet: Seguidilla, with Roberto Alagna; Chanson; Habanera; L’amour est enfant de bohéme (Carmen); Lehár: Hör ich Zymbalklänge (Zigeunerliebe); Balfe: I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls (The Bohemian Girl); Montsalvatge: Canción de Cuna (Cinco canciones negras); de Falla: Canción del amor dolido (El amor brujo); Nana and Jota (Siete canciones populares)¹; Ravel: Vocalise en forme de Habanera; Chapí: Cuando está tan hondo (El barquillero); Bernstein: I am easily assimilated (Candide); Gallardo del Rey: Canción del amor¹; Luna: De España vengo, ¡soy española! (El niño judío); Obradors: El vito¹; Serrano: A una gitana preciosa (La alegría del batallón). Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano), José María Gallardo del Rey (guitar)¹, Coro Filarmonico del Regio di Torino, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai, c. Karel Mark Chichon
(Notes, texts and
translations in German, French and English. Rec. Torino, Auditorium Rai "Arturo
Toscanini", March 2010)
When one of today’s hottest operatic properties takes up zarzuela with the virtuoso enthusiasm of Elīna Garanča, the musical world takes notice. As she reports in a conversation with George Hall which serves as programme note for Habanera, she was introduced to the genre by the conductor here, her Gibraltarian husband Karel Mark Chichon, and it was the major reason she wanted to make the album: “I love Spanish zarzuela… People often underestimate it, but to perform zarzuela well is very difficult … Because it’s a very serious genre – whatever some people might think… Zarzuela speaks to every nationality, to every audience in every concert hall where I’ve performed it”. Brava!
So how does she perform it? Vocally, most beautifully. No mezzo since Berganza has sounded so technically bombproof or so lusciously rich in these four songs from the repertoire. Her Paloma (which rightly opens the disc) has charm and grace, her “gitana preciosa” Slav force and fire, whilst she flings off “De España vengo” with an imperious ease and brio which recall Archipova in her prime. Her own favourite? “Well, I love El barquillero…” But it’s here that the caveat comes in. How little she does with the text, how little to ring changes on that firm, even tone; and without a sense of Soccoro’s swiftly changing hope, fear, passion and guilt, Chapí’s masterly romanza doesn’t really amount to more than a hill of vocal beans. It sounds glorious, but needs so much more than that.
It’s not just the zarzuela songs. Throughout this loosely compiled collection of gypsy-related material – some of it, such as the de Falla items, disconcertingly bitty – textual response doesn’t seem high on Garanča’s agenda. It’s that magisterial, even tone which her admirers love. And with every reason: the creamy-dreamy traversal of Balfe’s Bohemian Girl indulges the senses like a box of Thornton’s toffee, whilst the Ravel Vocalise (no words to disrupt the line here!) is breathtaking. Her inclusion of Bizet’s original setting of the Habanera text, written before he came across Iradier’s song, is an intriguing plus point, but the album disappointingly fails to live up to more than the sum of its parts. Mind you, a complete Garanča Tempranica or a Dolorosa opposite Juan Diego Flórez would be quite something.
© Christopher Webber 2011
06 September 2011