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Marco Polo 8.225084-85

   Fanfare, June 2001
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James H. North
Fanfare, June 2001

"Jesús Guridi (1886-1961) is by general consensus the major Basque composer; although also from Bilbao, Arriaga was a Spaniard. A fair amount of Guridi's music has been recorded, but not much has crossed the Atlantic. ...Guridi is known in Spain primarily for his zarzuelas; the soundtrack of a television production of El caserio on a pair of Spanish EMI LPs (on the labels Nipper listens to, "La voz de su amo") provides an exciting, fully operatic listening experience.

"Amaya is a 'lyric drama' in Basque, with little hint of Spain or of the zarzuela. The story is a powerful one, re-creating a legendary moment in Basque history as the new Christianity attempts to overthrow established pagan culture. Each side is represented by a suitor for the hand of the princess, the victor to be crowned king. One is a tenor, the other a bass: Guess who gets the girl? Our hero outdoes Oedipus by accidentally murdering both his parents, a stupid blunder for which God grants forgiveness after seven years of penance in the wilderness. The language poses a challenge for the listener; The New Columbia Encyclopedia states that "no relationship between Basque and any other language has been established....." Listening and reading the libretto, one is forced to agree:

"It is quite singable, but for the uninitiated accents often fall in unexpected places. Side-by-side Basque and English texts are a blessing; even so, it can be hard to keep one's place, a difficulty compounded by lengthy arias and few tracks, one of them lasting 27 minutes.

"Written from 1910 to 1920, the earnest music displays a variety of stylistic influences from late-19th-century European opera, notably Wagner and Massenet; one progression from Tristan keeps sneaking in. The roles of Amagoia and Asier, the bad guys, are more strongly written, dramatically and musically, than those of Amaya and Teodosio, the lovers. The four lead performers are from United States and Mexico; only mezzo-soprano Itxaro Mentxaka sings her native language, in a lesser role. The singing is competent and committed, and the accompaniment is excellent. A gorgeous five-minute orchestral interlude, "Ritual Dancing", in scene 4 of the first act is the high point of the set; little else in the early going displays enough character to fire the listener's imagination. By the middle of act II, it becomes apparent that Guridi is more at home in intimate and in joyful (choral) scenes, where a folkish aura breaks through the heavy drama. The recorded sound is quite fine, with singers and chorus well presented and nicely balanced against the orchestra."

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