Notes and Editorial Reviews
Albéniz's epic is a rich experience, and a fine film
When Decca issued its outstanding recording of Albéniz's Merlin (12/00), the first of a projected trilogy of Arthurian operas in English, it marked a turning-point in our appreciation of this Spanish composer, best-known for his colourfully nationalistic piano music. The conductor, José de Eusebio, tireless advocate of the Albéniz operas and the force behind that project, last year followed up that set with a full staging of the opera in Madrid; this DVD is the result.
It makes a valuable supplement to the discs, for though the libretto of the eccentric banker Francis Burdett Money-Coutts is flawed both dramatically and in
the doggerel of its verse, the staging certainly adds to one's involvement. When you can see the young Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone, the Wagnerian echoes become ever clearer, even if Albéniz is much more straightforwardly diatonic in style. John Dew's direction sets out the story clearly and the stylised sets and costumes (designed respectively by Heinz Baithes and Jose Manuel Vazquez) are medieval enough to create the right atmosphere but with a touch of science fiction.
Though the cast is not as starry as that on disc (with Plácido Domingo as King Arthur), there is obvious benefit in having English speakers in three of the principal parts, David Wilson-Johnson commanding and noble as Merlin, with the American tenor, Stuart Skelton as Arthur, powerful rather than subtle, and Carol Vaness, also American, as Nivian. The big snag is the singer who might have been counted the star, Eva Marton as the evil Morgan le Fay. The unsteadiness of her voice, so extreme that one can hardly tell what pitch she is aiming at, may convey the wickedness of the character, and she acts convincingly, but it is painful on the ear. Ángel Odena characterises her son Modred well but also has bouts of unsteadiness; Victor Varcia Sierra, as King Lot of Orkney, is another wobbler.
Happily, the chorus work is first-rate, and, as in the audio recording, Eusebio draws warmly committed playing from the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. With so rare an opera it is a pity that the booklet contains no synopsis, though there is compensation in having English subtitles available, even if that underlines the banality and often incomprehensibility of MoneyCoutts's verses. Outweighing any flaws, though, what above all shines out is the richness and variety of Albéniz's musical inspiration.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [9/2004]
Running Time: 184 minutes
Picture Format: widescreen; NTSC; color
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
Works on This Recording
Merlin by Isaac Albeniz
Carol Vaness (Soprano),
David Wilson-Johnson (Baritone),
Eva Martón (Soprano),
Stuart Skelton (Tenor)
José De Eusebio
Madrid Teatro Real Orchestra,
Madrid Teatro Real Chorus
Written: c.1898, rev 1990s Jo
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