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Glenn Erickson
DVD Talk, April 2009

In the summer of 2007, after a concert of very un-Viennese Spanish zarzuelas with soprano Ana María Martínez, the regional government of Salzburg awarded a gold medal to the Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo. I was made curious by Medici Arts’ Blu-ray disc of Amor, Vida de Mi Vida: Zarzuelas by Plácido Domingo and Ana María Martínez because I’ve been hearing about zarzuelas off and on for thirty years. A relative once sang them on Ecuadorian radio, and we still have full rack of rare old LPs from Madrid. This was a chance to get a real answer to the question, "What is a zarzuela?"

Zarzuelas began in the 17th century in Spain as sort of an answer to Italy’s opera buffa, operas with dialogue between songs. They’re mostly musical romances, sometimes with a specific historical background. Although a comic relief character was common, they weren’t comedies outright. The songs vary from popular melodies to more operatic arias. The form developed over the years, with a general trend toward more romantic subjects. The form spread throughout the Spanish-speaking world, even to the Philippines.

Amor, Vida de Mi Vida is a concert hall evening in Austria, with 18 pieces and four encores. Conductor Jesús López Cobos intersperses several instrumentals between vocal performances, including a dynamic selection from El Amor Brujo. The selections have been chosen to show off the range and power of the world-class singers, so we don’t hear many pop-oriented melodies. Plácido Domingo clearly loves the songs and feels their emotion as he sings. Ana María Martínez, a vision in a scarlet gown, is something of a wonder for the ears. The Spanish lyrics are imposing, to say the least; the optional Spanish subtitles will be a big help, even to Spanish speakers. (Subs are also accessible in English, German and French.

Domingo and Martínez sing several duets, not quite playing the scenes as if in a zarzuela production, but singing to one another and every so often striking a telling pose. Domingo alternates between several microphones and circles his partner when she sings. Martínez displays genuine garbo: grace, poise, elegance, with an element of pride. These are consummate "less is more" performers…the voices alone are stunning, making elaborate stage hype unnecessary. Frankly, it makes one realize how shallow most pop stage extravaganzas are today, carting around tons of moving scenery, lighting equipment, pyrotechnics.

The Salzburg audience listens with rapt attention throughout the concert, offering eager applause for the evening’s unusual fare. For the last encore, however, the pair sings a German standard with gusto—and the audience applauds even louder.

Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 2009

The latest addition to Euroarts’ Blu-ray catalog is a Spanish flavored concert that was recorded live at the Salzburger Festspiele in Salzburg, Austria on August 9, 2007. For nearly two hours, famous Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, lovely soprano Ana Maria Martinez, and the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, led by Maestro Jesus Lopez Cobos, delighted the audience with a colorful selection of vocal treats.

The original plan was to have two tenors, but Placido Domingo’s younger colleague, Rolando Villazon, was unable to commit. As a result, the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg and Meastro Cobos were forced to fill the gap with a few purely instrumental works.

Nonetheless, the concert was dedicated to the zarzuela—a Spanish popular genre blending spoken dialog with dramatic operatic singing that flourished during the 17th century. The program included selected zarzuelas from the works of Federico Torroba, Pablo Luna, Reveriano Soutullo, Jose Serraon, Manuel Penella, Pablo Sorozabal, Ruperto Chapi, and Ernesto Lecuon, as well as orchestral works by Federico Chueca, Manuel de Falla, and Geronimo Gimenez.

Placido Domingo and Ana Maria Martinez performed a number of well known solo arias (La tabernera del puerto: En un pais de fibula; La tabernera del puerto: No puede ser; El nino judio: De Espana vengo; ) as well as fantastic duets (Luisa Fernanda: Callate, corazon!; Don Gil de Alcala: Habanera Duet: Todas las mananitas; Luisa Fernanda: En mi tierra extremea,) that evoked the spirit of an era that nowadays can only be experienced through music. As expected, on the stage, they were unusually playful and encouraging the audience to share their enthusiasm.

This being said, what truly separates Amor, vida de mi vida from similar live events is its atmosphere. So often we see classical concerts where the audience is either not given a chance to respond to the performance or simply unwilling to recognize the efforts of the musicians/singers. This certainly isn’t the case with this terrific concert that culminated with standing ovations, four encores, and a representative of the local government awarding Placido Domingo with the City of Salzburg’s prestigious Gold Medal.

Presented in an aspect ratio 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080i transfer, Amor, vida de mi vida arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Euroarts.

This is yet another fantastic release from the European distributors that will surely delight classical music aficionados—contrast is superb here while detail and clarity are simply astounding. This being said, the actual concert was shot with multiple HD cameras; therefore, you will be able to see the two soloists, the orchestra, and Maestro Cobos from a number of different angles. Furthermore, unlike some recent opera releases that we’ve reviewed, Amor, vida de mi vida does not reveal any lighting/shadow issues (Opus Arte’s release of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges had such problematic areas) either. Also, though there is a bit of motion-judder that I was able to detect, it is most definitely not something that would detract from your viewing experience. Finally, the actual transfer is notably healthy – there are no image distortions of any sort that I could detect. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray release. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).

There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Spanish/Music LPCM 5.1 and Spanish/Music LPCM 2.0. The recent Medici Arts/ Euroarts Blu-ray release of Herbert von Karajan Memorial Concert was so impressive, I could not wait to get my hands on this Blu-ray release. And, once again, what a spectacular job Euroarts have done! The LPCM 5.1 track is so well mixed that at times you could literally hear Placido Domingo’s breathing (how impressive is this for a live recording). On the other hand, Ana Maria Martinez’s voice is projecting exceptionally well (listen to the fantastic El nino judio). Balance—the one aspect that I am most concerned about when classical music is released on Blu-ray—is phenomenal. The two soloists and the orchestra are matched very well and there are no dynamics issues that I could detect either. To sum it all up, if you are interested in the music of Torroba, Serrano, Falla, Penella, Sorozabal, and zarzuelas in general, this disc belongs in your collection. (Note: Euroarts have provided optional English, German, Spanish, and French subtitles for the entire concert).

Other than a gallery of trailers, there is absolutely nothing else to be found on this Blu-ray disc. There is, however, a nice booklet which Euroarts have included with it. In it, there is a very informative essay by Manuel Brug titled “From a Spanish bramble to the River Salzach”. (The text is available in English, German, French, and Spanish).

Final Words
This is a fantastic package that I cannot recommend highly enough! It is exceptionally well produced and meant to appeal to those who have a special place in their hearts for great Spanish music. This being said, even if you are not someone who typically enjoys classical music, I urge you to give Amor, vida de mi vida a chance—thrust me, you’ll love every bit of it!!

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12:57:14 PM, 14 October 2015
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