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.
1. Preludio to El bateo, Frederico Chueca
2. "Amor, vida de mi vida" from La maravilla, Federico Moreno Torroba (Domingo)
3. "De España vengo" from El niño judio, Pablo Luna Carné (Martínez)
4. "Tienes razón, amigo" from La chulapona, Federico Moreno Torroba (Domingo)
5. "La Petenera: "Tres hora antes del diá"" from La marcharena, Federico Moreno Torroba (Martínez)
6. Danza ritual del fuego from El amor brujo, Manuel de Falla
7. "¡Cállate corazón!" from Luisa Fernanda, Federico Moreno Torroba (Martínez, Domingo)
8. Romanza: "¿Qué te importa que no venga?" from Los claveles, José Serrano (Martínez)
9. "Quiero desterrar de tu pecho el temor" from La del Soto del Parral, Reveriano Soutullo Otero (Domingo)
10. Interludio from La boda de Luis Alonzo, o La noche del encierro, Jerónimo Giménez Bellido
11. Habanera duet: "Todas la man˜anitas" from Don Gil de Alcalá, Manuel Penella (Martínez, Domingo)
12. "En un país de fábula" from La taberna del puerto, Pablo Sorozábal (Martínez)
13. "Luché la fe por el triunfo" from Luisa Fernanda, Federico Moreno Torroba (Domingo)
14. Jota from El sombrero de tres picos, Manuel de Falla
15. "Junto al puente de la peña" from La cancíon de olvido, José Serrano (Domingo)
16. Les carceleras: "Al pensaren el dueño de mis amores" from Las hijas de Zebedeco, Ruperto Chapi (Martínez)
17. "En mi tierra extremeña" from Luisa Fernanda, Federico Moreno Torroba (Martínez, Domingo)Encores:
18. "No puede ser" from La taberna del puerto, Pablo Sorozábal (Domingo)
19. "Mulata infeliz, tu vida acabó" from María la O, Ernesto Lecuona (Martínez)
20. "¿Soleá!" -- "¡Me llamabas, Rafaeliyo?" from El gato montés, Manuel Penella (Domingo, Martínez)
21. "Lippen schweigen" from De lustige Witwe, Franz Léhar (Domingo, Martínez)
Medici Arts' Blu-ray of Amor, Vida de Mi Vida: Zarzuelas by Plácido Domingo and Ana María Martínez is a splendid presentation that shows just how spectacular Blu-ray can be for concert performances. The audio is crystal clear, as is the picture, giving us fairly breathtaking close-ups of the performances. Karina Fibich's direction avoids showoff camera moves in favor of expressive angles of the musicians. Because the HD picture allows us to read facial expressions even in wide shots, when a musician is singled out we feel like we've been given a personal introduction. A lead clarinet wears an attractive knit dress that catches our eye every time Fibich cuts to her.
Manuel Brug provides an informed and detailed set of liner notes for the insert pamphlet (the source of much of the information above). The disc is an impressive viewing and listening experience, with few distractions: an unusual concert produced to perfection. Favorite title: "Mulata infeliz, tu vida acabó" -- which means, "Unhappy mulatto, your life is over". Sounds pretty serious.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Amor, Vida de Mi Vida:
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