NEBRA Iphigenie en Tracia • Emilio Moreno, cond; Marta Almajano (Iphigenia); María Espada (Orestes); Raquel Andueza (Dircea/Mochila); Soledad Cardoso (Polidoro); Marta Infante (Cofieta); Concierto Español • GLOSSA 920311 (2 CDs:Read more 96:57 Text and Translation)
Although the liner notes repeatedly refer to Iphigenia en Tracia as a zarzuela, that was a flexible term in the 18th century, one that sometimes was used interchangeably with opera, melodrama escénico, drama armónico, etc. Some particularly Spanish traits in this basically operatic format included an unusually large proportion of spoken text to music, the mixture of sharply diverging serious and comic characters and scenes (a typically conservative holdover from pre-Metastasian Italian opera), and the inclusion of what might be generically termed Hispanic folk-popular musical elements, for lack of the space to write anything elaborate on the subject. All of these but especially the last were less apparent after Phillippe de France brought the Bourbons to power in Spain in 1700, with Italian operatic troupes in his entourage. A wise composer who hoped to succeed at the royal court and its satellites mixed a large amount of Italian opera seria via Vivaldi, Scarlatti, and Porpora with a pinch of the native spice. Exact quantities would vary per recipe, of course, and if Nebra’s Amor aumenta el valor (reviewed in Fanfare 34:5) from 1728 sounded much like the cantatas and operas of the Roman school earlier in that century, Iphigenia en Tracia of 1747 is mainly Vivaldi with a fair leavening of Caldara, and a more pronounced Spanish flavor.
The last of these explodes forth in the act I duet “Ya se fue, y de mirala,” set to a seguidilla rhythm—and not between two lower-class zanies as one might expect anywhere else in Europe when employing folk content in opera, but between the likes of Orestes and Dircea. Character differentiation goes out the window at such times, but it’s not really an issue, as the theme, the harmonies, above all the rhythms drive everything before them. (It was the kind of “hit piece” that Nebra used to great effect in several of his zarzuelas around that time; Aquiles en Troya of the same year had a seguidilla set before the walls of Troy. What must Priam have thought?) Elsewhere, the Vivaldian Iphigenia/Orestes duet, “Ay, joven infelice,” includes a choral refrain that utilizes harmonic suspensions and clashes common to Spanish folk music, while the comic duet “Tú, Tirana en un monte” could have been transcribed with few changes from a Soler sonata.
Not that numbers free of Spanish influence are lacking. The Iphigenia/Orestes/Dircea/Polidoro piece identified as a “quartet aria,” “Muera un afecto incierto,” is Caldara with the galant just around the corner, while Dircea’s aria “Gozaba el pecho mio” alternates great sadness and fury to excellent effect, in Vivaldi’s most electrifying manner.
The performances are good. Marta Almajano seems occasionally hard-pressed in faster sections, where she’s sketchy, but otherwise reveals good figurations and a light, attractive tone. Soledad Cardoso exhibits fine divisions, a bright top, superb breath control, strong dynamics, and a complete lack of dramatic interest. This contrasts with Raquel Andueza, who clearly has an interest in the words, and expresses their emotive character effectively without resorting to inappropriate stylistic practices. She also has the best voice of the lot for rich tone, varied delivery, even production, and ability in florid passages. María Espada would probably have given her a run for the money in theatrical insights if the role of Orestes weren’t so limited in this work. Finally, the aristocratic tone of Marta Infante seems at odds with her role as a maid and her single Despina-ish aria, “Descolorida, desmadejada,” though there’s little evidence of the white column of sound she exhibited in Amor aumenta el valor. Moreno pushes his tempos hard at times, but secures fastidious and reasonably blended performances from El Concierto Español.
I must add three caveats, however. First, it’s not until you read the lengthy liner notes (and get halfway through those) that you’ll realize this isn’t Nebra’s complete Iphigenia en Tracia. The very extensive text has been completely removed, leaving 24 musical numbers, if we include eight that are recitatives. The texts for those pieces are reproduced, but not the full libretto, and Moreno’s plot synopsis seems more a wish to demonstrate that he’s read Herodotus and can provide bits of Classical Greek historical background than offer any genuine continuity.
My second issue is with Moreno’s musical edition. On the one hand, we’re told that Iphigenia en Tracia’s manuscript, now held at the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, is nothing more than a “preliminary sketch,” and “insufficient without the individual parts for a direct interpretation of the piece,” which are lacking. However, it also possesses “all the information necessary for making a faithful and reliable transcription,” to which the conductor/editor hasn’t added “anything that was not the composer’s intention,” yet he had to prepare “separate performance parts for each of the voices and instruments.” All of which I assume is a very roundabout way of stating he found a short score at the monastery, and had to do the orchestration and filling-out of parts. I don’t mind this. Though I find the allocation of castanets to some numbers awkward, I just wish the album had stated on its cover that this recording of Iphigenia en Tracia was “without spoken portions, and as orchestrated by Emilio Moreno.” More accurate, and more truthful.
My third caveat? Take a look at the timings. I’m sorry, but two CDs running just under 97 minutes total is miserly for a set going at full price. Even if Glossa’s contract was for nothing but the zarzuela, couldn’t they have reached into their catalog for short works from other albums?
These reservations aside, recommended. What we have here is not really a dramatically coherent piece, but the delightful music from one, as orchestrated and conducted by Moreno, with a good cast, and in excellent sound.
Soledad Cardoso (Soprano),
Maria Espada (Soprano),
Marta Almajano (Soprano),
Raquel Andueza (Soprano),
Marta Infante (Mezzo Soprano)
El Concierto Español