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Recordings

Ruperto Chapi: Margarita la tornera
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?

Ruperto Chapi: Margarita la tornera

Placido Domingo (Don Juan de Alarcon), Elisabete Matos (Margarita), Angeles Blancas (Sirena), Stefano Palatchi (Gavilan), Angel Odena (Don Lope de Aguilera), Maria Rey-Joly (La tornera). Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid conducted by Garcia Navarro.
Recorded live at the Teatro Real de Madrid on the 16th and 19th of December 1999

RTVE Classics 65169 [2CDs]

$33.49  Click to buy

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, Germania etc.

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.

Jan Neckers

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