Recently in Recordings
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24 Jul 2006
CHAPI: Margarita la tornera
Is this the application of Peter’s Principle on Ruperto Chapi’s music as Chris Webber, editor of www.zarzuela.net preaches, or is this proof of Chapi being “undoubtedly the most important Spanish
composer of stage music of all time” as the sleeve notes tell us?
As so often, truth lies somewhere in the middle. Chapi was a pupil of
Emilio Arrieta, the successful composer of the zarzuela Marina which
he later reworked into a three-act opera (try the first Kraus recording from
1960). Like so many aspiring youngsters, Chapi went for eternal glory in
opera and orchestral music. So did Leo Fall, Imre Kalman and Franz Lehar. And
after less than rousing success they opted for a genre which suited their
talents best. Fall, Kalman and Lehar became masters of operetta and Chapi
wrote some good zarzuelas like La Bruja, La Tempestad and
maybe his finest and surely his most popular work, the one act La
Revoltosa. But contrary to his Central-European colleagues, Chapi never
gave up on his operatic dreams. He died, almost 58, a few days after the
première of this Margerita which he had conducted. It is the one of
his many operas that is from time to time resurrected and it is based on a
legend that with some variations was told in most catholic countries. A nun
is seduced by a nobleman and leaves her cloister. Two years later, she
returns utterly disillusioned and discovers that nobody has missed her
absence as a doorkeeper ( = la tornera). All the time the Virgin Mary had
taken her place.
The last revival of Margarita la tornera was a series of
performances at the Madrid Opera seven years ago. The sleeve notes state that
“numerous reasons led to extensive cuts . . . affecting various choral
passages and some vocal numbers”. So one has to be careful with
one’s judgment. This certainly is no zarzuela. The music has a slower,
more earnest tone. Exciting rhythms, love choruses etc. are conspicuously
lacking but so is the easy tunefulness of Chapi’s best works. The
orchestration is brilliant but doesn’t quite compensate for the fact
that the emotional moments don’t strike deep as the composer did find
the orchestral colours but not the thematic material to go with it. Neither
the love scenes, the quarrels and especially the apotheosis of the story are
particularly memorable. I’m sure this can be a pleasant evening in the
theatre though not one that results in humming the leitmotivs for days to
come. The sleeve writer emphasizes the influence of Puccini but I think he
underestimates the influence of the “giovane scuola” as a whole.
Some ensembles remind me more of Leoncavallo’s Bohème than
Puccini’s. And there are hints of Mascagni and Giordano as well. In
short, not a very original score but still worthwhile investing in if you are
tired of the old warhorses and are exploring Siberia, Amica, Zanetto,
Contrary to many recordings of the lesser known verismo works, this
Margarita is cast from strength. Though Placido Domingo
doesn’t sing the title role, his name and photograph on the cover stand
first; an acceptable marketing ruse. The tenor is in amazingly fresh voice;
his rich middle voice ringing out and maybe deleting some high notes nobody
knows are in the score due to a lack of performance tradition. Of course it
is well possible that Chapi like all zarzuela composers gave some leeway to
his singers: according to the available singers one could either use a tenor
or a baritone or even a mixed version. That was probably the version chosen
in Madrid as it suits soprano Elisabete Matos, too. The Portuguese lady has a
vibrant, passionate voice, full of colours in the best Mediterranean
tradition and she is a worthy partner of the tenor. Her shrill shriek at the
end of the opera where a fine high C is needed proves that she is not too
sure above the stave as well. Good top notes, therefore, come from Angeles
Blancas, daughter of baritone Antonio Blancas and the late lamented dramatic
soprano Angeles Gulin. She has probably the finest scene of the opera in a
rousing theatre scene where as Sirena she dances, sings and seduces and she
has the voice and the sense of rhythm the music asks for. Angel Odena is a
convincing Don Lope, the rival of the tenor for the temptress. Only Stefano
Palatchi in his Leporello-role sings with a dry and boring sound and is not
up to the level of the other singers. The late Garcia Navarro clearly
believes in the score and leads the orchestra with conviction, revealing the
many beauties of the orchestral parts. Due to the cuts the second CD gives
short value, lasting only 36 minutes. Notes and summary are both in Spanish
and English but it is a pity that the libretto itself is in Spanish only.