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Alicia M. Doyle
Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, March 2010

Born in Spain to parents who made a career in zarzuela performance, Plácido Domingo moved with his family as a child to Mexico, where his parents had formed a zarzuela company. The works on this recording reflect his family’s heritage and business and are understandably sentimental. The repertory on the DVD is comprised of instrumental pieces, arias, and duets excerpted from twenty-one works, most of which are truly zarzuelas (The jota from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El sombrero de tres picos, ¡Soleá!- ¿Me llamabas, Rafaeliyo? from Manuel Pennella’s opera El gato montés, and “Lippen Schweigen” from Franz Léhar’s operetta Die lustige Witwe are the outsiders.) All but two of the works (those by the Cuban composer, Ernesto Lecuona and the Austro-Hungarian, Léhar) on the DVD are from Spanish composers.

Despite the fact that the zarzuela as a genre has its roots in Baroque Spain, no early works are represented in this particular recording. Drawn strictly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the earliest work on the DVD is “Al pensar en el dueño de mis amores,” from Ruperto Chapí’s Las hijas del Zebedeo (1889), and the most recent work is “No puede ser” from Pablo Sorozábal’s La tabernera del Puerto (1936).

The concerts were nicely but conventionally filmed and the venue is pleasant, if a bit on the ordinary side. Domingo and Ana María Martínez sing with a subtle Castilian accent, and the orchestra performs masterfully with López-Cobos at the helm. During the pieces that feature the singers, the camera stays mainly on the Domingo and/or Martinez, alternating shots of the audience at appropriate moments. During the instrumental works there is more variety in the camera angles, with the focus zooming in on the instruments that were perceived to be or particular importance in the moment…Overall the DVD is an easy sell. All of the pieces selected are lushly scored, with a focus on melody, consistently dramatic, yet conservatively pleasant, harmonies, and a preponderance of dance rhythms. Ad di - tionally, the works have a common thread of “exotic” flair exhibited mainly by semistereotypical “folk” sounds (chromatic melodies, dance rhythms, and the use of castanets). Even the work by Lecuona is marked by recurring inclusion of Afro- Cuban percussion, and the Léhar is a waltz!

Watching the entire DVD in one sitting is perhaps not recommended as the works are all quite similar and saturation will come quickly. Waiting for the soloists to walk on and off the stage also becomes quite tedious when watching continuously. However, if you are looking for an excellent chapter or two of a video to introduce the zarzuela genre in a music appreciation course or some sort of event in which patrons with a love of music, but little music experience are being addressed, this video is ideal. The music is all extraordinarily approachable; there is no shortage of catchy melodies, toe-tapping dance rhythms, and several unmistakable references to the exotic (mostly) Spanish origins. The orchestra looks great, the close ups of the instrumentalists are wonderfully posed (one could even use the video to approach the subject of rotary valve trumpets!) and the close ups of the singers are at an appropriate angle so as to not be uncomfortable. Subtitles are available in German, English, French, and Spanish. This is definitely not a filmic production, but rather a televisionstyle work, and for what it is, it delivers.

Frank Swietek
Video Librarian, July 2009

Anyone interested in sampling the traditional Spanish form of opera/operetta called the zarzuela could do far worse than this title, which offers a variety of arias and duets performed at a concert during the 2007 Salzburg Festival. All of the pieces date from the 20th century (representing the Romantic zarzuela; the form was also used during the Baroque era, but none of those are included here), from composers—Chueca, Torroba, Carné, Serrano, Otero, Bellido, Penella, Sorozábal, Chapí, and Lecuona—who are hardly household names. But all of the selections are well-constructed (with much of the richness of Italian opera of the same period) and beautifully performed by Placido Domingo (a longtime advocate of the zarzuela), whose clarion tenor has barely dimmed with age, and his lovely, vocally agile partner Ana María Martínez. The accompaniments are played by the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg—a group unlikely to be well acquainted with these scores, but conductor Jesús López Cobos has the music in his bones, effectively transmitting its spirit to the musicians, whose dexterity is highlighted in a couple of instrumental interludes composed by Manuel de Falla. The final encore, from Léhar’s The Merry Widow, was obviously chosen with the largely Austrian audience in mind, but it concludes the program on a nice lilting note. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, and PCM stereo on DVD and PCM 5.1 and stereo on Blu-ray, this is recommended.

Richard Traubner
Opera News, June 2009

I was prepared to be bored by this zarzuela recital, mainly because the list of songs seemed to favor the very last zarzuela creators and their syrupy sentiments. However, the fact that this recital was produced at the Salzburg Festival (2007), hardly a fertile arena for Spanish operetta, proved quite beguiling, and the playing of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra is a cut above the ragtag (or even pre-recorded) bands one often gets in the pit in today’s Spain.

Once the concert opened, with Federico Chueca’s jaunty overture to El Bateo (1901), and I saw the delight of the orchestra members playing their Spanish rhythms, and the delight of the audience hearing them, I knew that everything would be fine. The camera stays focused on the singers, the instrumentalists, the conductor and the audience. Don’t expect any sudden Spanish travelogues or costumed troupes of gitanas: the music supplies all the color.

Plácido Domingo has a family connection to one of the late zarzuela masters: his parents were the stars of Federico Moreno Torroba’s zarzuela company in the 1940s and ’50s. So one can forgive his predilection for arias and duets from Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda (1932), or the treacly “Amor, vida de mi vida,” from La Maravilla (1941), which gives this recital its title — or the inevitable, if still exciting, “No puede ser,” from Pablo Sorozábal’s La Tabernera de la Puerta (1936), which had the audience screeching with delight.

Domingo has the heroic heft of the great star tenors of zarzuela, such as Hipólito Lázaro, Marcos Redondo and, of course, Alfredo Kraus, so that any zarzuela item he chooses to sing (including those lying in a baritone range) will go over fabulously. He also looks as good as he sounds, in just an open black shirt and suit.

The young soprano Ana María Martínez gives a lovely radiance to her entrance number, “De España vengo,” from Luna’s El Niño Judío (1918), and it is rewarding to watch the clarinets and bassoons revel in the lustrous orchestrations. Martínez also regales us with the enchanting romance from Serrano’s very 1920s Los Claveles, as well as (with Domingo) two Penella duets — the habanera from Don Gil de Alcalà (1932) and the bullfight-arena-ending duo from El Gato Montés (1916).

In fact, there is a nice balance of zarzuela epochs here, ranging from Chapí’s nimble carceleras from the 1889 Las Hijas de Zebedeo to the rakish, playful “Junto al puente de la peña,” from José Serrano’s La Canción del Olvido (1916), to the seductively languid title song from Maria la O, by Cuba’s Ernesto Lecuona, from the 1930s.

Some of the 1930s material, admittedly, is underwhelming, and Jesús López-Cobos fails to make Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance fiery enough. Among the orchestral interludes, the jota from Falla’s Sombrero des Tres Picos comes off far better.

By encore time, the Salzburg audience seems totally won over to zarzuela, and the evening ends with a surprise rendition of Lehár’s Merry Widow waltz, unfortunately not sung in Spanish.

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4:16:43 AM, 1 September 2015
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