Notes and Editorial Reviews
Critic, composer, and conductor, Lionel Salter, wrote in a New Grove article on the zarzuela that it suffered throughout the 20th century by deterioration towards the musically “crude revue sketch.” In his estimation, only five composers worked to counter this influence: Amadeo Vives, José Serrano, Jose Maria Usandizaga, Federico Torroba, and Jesús Guridi, “who wrote a delicate score set in his native Basque country, El caserío.”
Delicate is a good way to describe El caserío. It’s a delightful score, filled with many refined touches of harmony and orchestration, some of them bringing to mind either the later scores of Puccini or the composer’s training at the famous Schola Cantorum in Paris. (None
of this requires the sacrifice of any Basque folk coloration, which is applied liberally throughout, but with discernment.) In such numbers as “El la cumbre del monte,” the haunting “Con alegría inmensa tu resolución!” and the a cappella chorus “Nochesita de estrellas,” Guridi also exhibits an introspective musical poetry that is rare to find in this vibrantly energetic genre. Not that it misses on liveliness, with the likes of the “Espatadantza” (“Sword Dance”), the sunny “Canción de los Versolaris,” and above all, the wildly exuberant quartet, “Con el trébole y el toronjil.”
The plot itself is nothing special. Though written by the very successful and distinguished team of Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernández-Shaw, it is one of several whose general outlines are regularly resuscitated among zarzuelas in much the same fashion Hollywood and Bollywood rewrite old movie favorites every few years. Santi, the local mayor of a Basque village, has raised the children of his two dead brothers as though they were his own. Now he wonders whether his nephew, José Miguel, and his niece, Ana Mari, wouldn’t do well to marry, but he finds himself interested in marrying Ana Mari, too. In the end, much as you’d expect, he doesn’t marry her; for money, position, and wealth all fail on stage before the amorous intentions of a youthful tenor.
The cast is good if not great, and to the manner born. Ana Rodrigo’s light soprano is pleasant to the ear, though she applies too much chest in the lower register: something of a national trait, I think. Emilio Sánchez’s sound is tight but attractive, while the second tenor lead, Felipe Nieto (a member, perhaps, of the famous family that produced Golden Age sopranos Ángeles Otein and Ofelia Nieto?), actually possesses a more relaxed if smaller tone. He’s partnered by Maria José Suárez, who produces a sturdy sound without evincing any understanding of the words. Juan José Mena leads at a relaxed but rhythmically well-defined pace. The Bilbao SO is generally accurate and always committed.
Vicente Sardinero (1937–2002) deserves a paragraph of his own. A fine, dark baritone with an exciting manner, lyrical line, and sure sense of theater, he was equally famed for his performances in zarzuela and opera. He made many albums of both, and one of my favorites is his subtle performance as Rabbi David in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (EMI Classics 67373). This was the last of his recordings, cut roughly a year before his death. As such, the voice no longer has the richness or evenness of Sardinero’s youth, and the upper notes are unsteady. But the lower reaches of his role still reveal a firm core to the sound, and appreciable musicality. Arguably another, more youthful baritone would have been a wiser choice, but sometimes experience and national pride deserve a moment all their own.
Both singers and orchestra are given good, forward miking. Dialogue is eliminated, and the sung language is Castilian (as it was, in the original performances). There are slim liner notes about Guridi and this zarzuela, along with a lengthy synopsis but no libretto. If the cost is too great to print more pages for its booklets, why can’t Naxos issue librettos and translations online? They seem to have given up on the idea, which is a shame, as many of their releases deserve the better understanding a side-by-side original language/English language libretto brings.
That aside, I have no problem with recommending El caserío to lovers of opera and zarzuela, alike. It only confirms what other releases in Naxos’s Spanish series have previously demonstrated, that Guridi was an excellent composer who deserved international recognition. This beguiling work of his isn’t about to leave my CD player, anytime soon, and it’s made my Want List for 2006.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
El caserío by Jesus Guridi
Vincente Sardinero (Baritone),
Ana Rodrigo (Soprano),
Emilio Sanchez (Tenor),
Fernando Latorre (Tenor),
Felipe Nieto (Tenor),
Maria José Suárez (Soprano)
Juan José Mena
Bilbao Choral Society,
Bilbao Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1926; Spain
Venue: Alava, Spain
Length: 78 Minutes 33 Secs.
Notes: Alava, Spain (08/20/2001 - 08/23/2001)
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