Worth checking out, but not a true masterpiece
albertatamazon | East Point, Georgia USA | 03/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, this is not a work that belongs in the category "Popular Music". This is a full-fledged two-hour opera,with a classically trained tenor, soprano and baritone, and featuring a large orchestra, and it is receiving its world-premiere recording here.
"Margarita la Tornera" was released in Spain last year, and it is only after being nominated for a Best Classical Latin Grammy Award that it has been released by Sony Music in the United States. We can be thankful for that, even though the US edition sadly comes with no booklet, no synopsis, and no libretto, so unless you've looked up this work on the Internet, or know it already, you will have no idea what is going on in the story. I have no idea if this is true of the Spanish edition, released by RTVE.
The story is based on a dramatic poem by 19th century Spanish author Jose Zorrilla, which is in turn based on a very old legend that has been dramatized both on stage and film several times. It is the story of a young nun who runs away from her convent with a lover. While she is gone, the statue of the Virgin Mary comes to life and takes her place so that no one will notice the nun's absence. After her beloved proves faithless, the nun returns to the convent. The best known, but much altered version of this legend is the 1959 Carroll Baker-Roger Moore film "The Miracle", which was itself based on a 1911 dramatization of the legend by Karl Vollmoeller. Being familiar with that film, I snatched up this CD at once.
Zarzuela composer Ruperto Chapi composed the music for "Margarita la Tornera" (the word "tornera" means "doorkeeper") nearly a hundred years ago, and Carlos Fernandez Shaw supplied the libretto. It is sung in Spanish. The music is very interesting, with some genuinely beautiful moments interspersed with some that become tiresome. And they become tiresome, not so much because of the actual music, but because of the singing of Elisabete Matos in the role of Margarita. She has to hit very high notes during moments of distress, and all too often, she barely misses making them sound like screeches. On the other hand, her leading man is none other than Placido Domingo, still in astonishingly good voice though in his mid-sixties. He, of course, sings splendidly, and convincingly enacts the role of Don Juan de Alarcon, the cad who leads her astray. Baritone Stefano Palatchi also delivers a well-sung performance as Domingo's servant, Gavilan.
The performance was recorded live, which is why you will sometimes hear footsteps and off-mike voices which grow louder as they approach. The conducting is ably handled by the late Garcia Navarro.
This is another in Placido Domingo's series of rediscovered Spanish operas, and while better than Albeniz's "Merlin", is still no "La Vida Breve". Don't expect Spanish guitars and foot-stomping dances, either; this is not that type of work, and as sentimental as the story sounds, the music is certainly not sappy. It is a work that should be heard at least once, and perhaps more than once to fully appreciate it."