It doesn't get better than this...
Michael Steinberg | Rochester, NY USA | 03/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Anyone who's come to know the wonderful Spanish genre of zarzuela is perpetually astonished by the fact that nobody else seems to have heard of it. It's nineteenth-century operetta that was still being written and performed into the 1930s. It has the heft and directness of early Verdi and the fizz of Offenbach, it's unmarred by glutinous sentiment, and the best show a disarming fusion of musical expertise and popular appeal.
There were two types of zarzuela: a big, three-act romantic model and a little, often topical one-act version. Breton's "La Verbena de la Paloma" is one of the best--if not THE best--of the one-act type. There's almost no plot; it's more like a series of everyday scenes in a working-class district of Madrid in the 1870s. Two old men complain about the barbarity of putting cod liver oil in capsules. A flamenco singer is heard off stage, and the conversations of the audience are woven into the music. In one amazingly inconsequential scene, a night watchman and two guards complain about the government in the most hackneyed cliches ever, while an offstage voice calls louder and louder for the watchman. And there's dancing, romantic laments, the self-satisfied confessions of an aged roue, and a swaying, seductive Habanera finale.
It's very rich musically, though there's no music at all for the third short act. The night watchman grouses over a marvellous weave of strings and woodwinds that perfectly matches the speed of his nocturnal pacing. Everyone has great tunes, and all of them are marvellously appropriate. It's 45 minutes of musical bliss.
The performance, too, is first-rate. Domingo is persuasively young-sounding as the typesetter hero, the "chulapas"--young, well-turned-out working class women--charming, and the dirty old Don Hilarion pretty hilarious. Zarzuela is not a genre for those who like pretty voices-- tenors as as often comic figures singing through their noses as romantic heros, and there are gravel-voiced sopranos to match them--but for those who think musical theater is about characters the "unpretty" sounds are just more music to the ears.
Get it before it disappears."