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M. García: El Poeta Calculista, Etc / Marcon, Rosique, Et Al

Release Date: 09/18/2007 
Label:  Almaviva   Catalog #: 144   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Manuel Garcia
Performer:  Ruth RosiqueMark Tucker
Conductor:  Andrea Marcon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Granada City Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Texts and translations on CD-ROM.

An exciting and enjoyable pair of discs, bringing to life and attention the music of an important figure in the opera world of the early nineteenth century. A valuable document, but even more important, a delightful listen.

Manuel García was a figure of real importance in the musical life of Europe and beyond and has so far had considerably less than his due deserts in terms of modern recognition. An honourable exception to that is to be found in the form of James Radomski’s fascinating book Manuel García: Chronicle of the Life of a bel canto Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Modern recordings of García’s
Read more work are by no means easy to come by. A search of the pages of MusicWeb International, for example, turns up only one recent mention in the reviews section – a performance by Cecilia Bartoli of the most famous number from ‘El Poeta Calculista’, on an album devoted to music associated with Maria Malibran (of whom more later). It is a real pleasure, then, to welcome this new recording of three complete works by García.

García was generally recognised as one of the finest tenors of his age. After early work in Spain, notably in Cádiz and Madrid, he moved to Italy in 1811. Amongst the roles he created there were Egeo in Simone Mayr’s Medea in Corinto (Naples, 1813) and Norfolk in Rossini’s Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra (Naples, 1815). He was the original Count Almaviva - the role having seemingly been written with him in mind - in Rossini’s Il Barbiere de Siviglia (Rome, 1816) - which has a certain pleasant aptness in that García himself was born in Seville. García went on to sing this role in the premieres of the opera in Paris, London and New York. There seems to have been a real and enduring friendship between Rossini and García.

As early as 1798 his works – of which his tonadilla (a one act comic opera) El majo y la maja was one of the first – were being performed in Madrid. His career as a composer flourished alongside his work as a singer. His opera Il califfo di Baghdad, which has had one or two modern revivals, was premiered in Naples, at the Teatro del Fondo, in 1813. In total he wrote over forty works for the stage. It is shame that so few have found their way onto the modern stage or into the recording studio.

A singer and composer whose career took him to Paris and London, García also became an impresario. In 1825 he took an opera company to New York – while continuing to compose and perform. His company – the first Italian opera company to visit North America – produced, at various times, six operas by Rossini, two by García himself and, worthy of note, gave the American premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He and his company also visited Mexico (where most of the profits are said to have disappeared following an encounter with some bandits).

He was an influential teacher too – his pupils included the French tenor Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839), who went on to create important roles in works by Rossini (e.g. Le Comte Ory, 1828) and Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots, 1836) amongst others, and the soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande (1798-1867) who created roles in works by both Meyerbeer and Bellini.

Not content with all of this, García also effectively established his own operatic dynasty. His genetic contribution, as well as that of his second wife, the mezzo Mariá Joaquina Sithces (1780-1854), who created the role of Ismene in the aforementioned Medea in Corinto, was doubtless of importance here, but so too was the teaching and encouragement which both husband and wife gave to their children. Two daughters, Maria and Pauline, became famous as Maria Malibran (1808-1836) one of the most admired mezzos of the first half of the nineteenth century, and Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), a great mezzo, an interesting composer and ‘friend’ of Ivan Turgenev. Their son, Manuel Garcia II (1805-1906) had some success as a baritone, before vocal problems forced his retirement from the stage; he went on to become one of the very earliest scientific students of voice-production and an enormously influential singing teacher; his pupils included Jenny Lind.

But what, you might reasonably ask, of García’s music itself? In these three compositions it is a delight, bubbling, full of vivacity and energy, with plenty of attractive melodies and enough distinctly Spanish touches to make it stand out amidst the music of its day, for all of García’s evident knowledge of the wider stylistic variety of European music in his day.

El Majo y la maja was premiered at the Teatro de Los Caños del Peral in Madrid, 31 May 1798, with García himself and his first wife Manuela Morales, taking the two vocal roles. It is an enjoyable, light hearted piece, largely taken up with the jealous squabbles between the maja and the majo - nicely translated as Belle and Beau here; the music of their squabbles and their eventual reconciliation, however temporary one suspects it to be is rich in echoes of popular Andalusian music, with some lovely ornamentations, and the frequent use of the characteristic rhythms of the folk and popular music of the region. It closes with a joyous allegro in which the two singers step out of their roles to request applause from different parts of the theatre. Both Ruth Rosique and Mark Tucker acquit themselves well, and the playing of the Orquestra ‘Ciudad de Granada’, conducted by Andrea Marcon is every bit as colourfully idiomatic as one might expect.

Another two-hander, La Declaración was premiered in July of the following year, again at the Teatro de Los Caños del Peral (which was on the site of the present Teatro Real in Madrid, and was demolished in 1818). A brief orchestral introduction, leads into a solo for ‘She’ (the protagonists, this time, are designated simply ‘Ella’ and ‘Él’). The reply from ‘He’ leads into a musical dialogue between the two (interspersed with short spoken dialogue). The interplay of solo song and dialogue is attractively handled, and reaches something of a climax in the coplas, verses exchanged to a repeated melody, with some attractive string figures by way of accompaniment. The finale allows both singers a certain scope for display. As with El Majo y la maja it is fair to say that La Declaración is a relatively lightweight piece, but it is unfailingly charming, a slight comedy of love’s misunderstandings which, for all its artificiality, is not without its insight into human nature.

El Poeta Calculista is a rather more substantial affair - a fascinating and distinctive work. It is a monologue opera, with a text by Diego del Castillo. García premiered the work at the Teatro de Los Caños del Peral on April 28, 1805; he later gave it (as Le Poète Spéculateur) as his first performance at the Théatre de l’Odeon in Paris, in 1809. The work begins with a splendid and quite substantial overture (running to almost seven and a half minutes in this performance), sophisticated in its orchestration and demonstrating, beyond doubt, García’s familiarity with the music of Haydn and Mozart. Thereafter the work proceeds by a mixture of means – there are orchestral interludes; there are spoken passages of verse; there are recitatives; there are arias. García performed the lot (a man of many parts, as we have seen, his skills also included acting and, incidentally, fair skill on the guitar). Mark Tucker ‘cheats’ just a little – he can hardly be blamed - by having the actor Pepe Cantaro take the speaking role (unless my ears deceive me). The words, spoken and sung, are those of a rustic recently arrived in Madrid, who quickly got himself a job as scribe to an impoverished poet. The poet died soon afterwards, naming the rustic as his heir. His ‘inheritance’ consisted entirely of the poet’s manuscripts. Now he fantasises about establishing himself as a poet, taking the manuscripts he has inherited as his working capital, as it were. In a work which is splendidly self-conscious, the monologist (we are never told his name) elaborates a fantasy of the career he will make for himself –he will start out writing tonadillas, go on to one act comedies, then a grand comedy, then a tragedy, then a grand opera. At each stage he tells us (and ‘shows’ us) what the appropriate kinds of poetry, characters, plot and music would be.

There are a number of set-pieces, vocally speaking. In one, the so-called ‘Aria Grande’ (‘Formaré mi plan…’), the protagonist elaborates his plans for a grand comedy, enumerating a cast-list of dramatic types which include an amorous young man, an "old hypocrite / always lecturing against love, / Who is caught in flagrante / And yet doesn’t even blush", a stutterer, a madman and a lady endlessly weeping. In music of constantly changing tempi and dynamics, the performer imitates these many characters – it is a display piece which could surely be a big hit at a vocal competition, in the right hands. Given García’s famously vivacious stage presence, it must have been quite something to see him perform. Another set-piece, the Duo (‘Anegado en tanta dicha…’) – yes, I said Duo, despite this being a monologue-opera – has the rustic, now thoroughly lost in his fantasies, imagining a love duet and singing both parts! The booklet notes by Emilio Casares Rodicio tell us that in this number García displayed "his singing skills by performing both as a bass and a soprano". Tucker gives us delightful version for his natural tenor voice and a kind of soprano-cum-countertenor voice. It is a virtuoso performance, richly enjoyable.

Tucker is good, too, in the most famous number from this opera, ‘’Yo que say contrabandista’, the caballo or ‘riding song’, the piece included by Bartoli on her Malibran CD mentioned above. Both Malibran and Viardot, indeed, were in the habit of incorporating the piece into the singing-lesson scene in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Liszt wrote a ‘rondeau fantastique’ on the theme; it surely underlies some of the ‘bandit’ music of Bizet’s Carmen and it was remembered and alluded to by Lorca (in Mariana Pineda in 1925). It is not hard to understand its popularity – but there are other things here that also ought to be better known. The polacca or polonaise near the end of the work, for one and – certainly – the overture.

The would-be poet, by the end of the work, recognises the nature of his own delusions – and hurries off to join the queue for soup at the nearby convent, declaring his intention of trying to get a job as a night watchman!

This is a valuable set in that it allows us to hear the work of a man whose name is to be encountered repeatedly in the annals of opera, but whose own music has remained unheard for far too long. In the vivacious work of Ruth Rosique, in the impressive contributions of Mark Tucker - though I confess that I would love to hear the music performed by a tenor more experienced in the idioms of Andalusian music - and the excellent accompaniment of Marcon and his orchestra, the music of Manuel del Pópolo García (to give him his full name) benefits from persuasive advocacy. This recording was produced under the auspices of the Centro de Documentacion Musical de Andalucia, based in Granada. I very much hope that before too long they will have the means to record some of García’s work that requires more than just the two singers employed here. I very much hope that we will get the opportunity to hear some of García’s work for the theatre, having had our appetites whetted by these thoroughly enjoyable CDs.

-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

El poeta calculista by Manuel Garcia
Performer:  Ruth Rosique (Soprano), Mark Tucker (Tenor)
Conductor:  Andrea Marcon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Granada City Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1805; Spain 
Language: Spanish 
La Declaración by Manuel Garcia
Performer:  Ruth Rosique (Soprano), Mark Tucker (Tenor)
Conductor:  Andrea Marcon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Granada City Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1799; Spain 
Language: Spanish 
El Majo y la Maja by Manuel Garcia
Performer:  Ruth Rosique (Soprano), Mark Tucker (Tenor)
Conductor:  Andrea Marcon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Granada City Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1798; Spain 
Language: Spanish 

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