Teresa Berganza / José Carreras

Zarzuela: Spanish Operetta

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The zarzuela is a centuries-old Spanish vocal genre, originally homegrown at a Palacio de la Zarzuela near Madrid and often classed with the singspiel, operetta, and other national styles of semi-popular, usually comic vocal music. But it had a deeper national identity than any of these, and it absorbed influences from Italian opera in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Plenty of zarzuela numbers are on the scale of opera arias, with dimensions spacious enough to let top-notch singers show what they can do. Various opera stars of Spanish background have recorded zarzuela albums in recent years, and now the Brilliant label, a Dutch issuer of budget-priced sets that are sold in Europe in drugstores and the like, enters the field with Zarzuela!, a reissue drawing on several zarzuela albums issued in the 1970s by Spain's Ensayo label.

The stars of the show are José Carreras and Teresa Berganza, and they're both tremendous. Carreras never sounded better than at this point in his career, and anyone enamored of this tenor's sound might want to pick up these little-known selections. Gift-givers are hereby advised that if they want to surprise Carreras-lovers, these performances are unlikely to be found in the collections even of ardent fans. Carreras appears only on the first of the three discs in the box set; the other two are devoted to Berganza, who sounds as graceful and passionate as she does in the heart of her Mozartian repertory. All three discs contain orchestral selections, as well. All of the music is accompanied not by a Spanish group but by the English Chamber Orchestra under Enrique Garcia Asensio. You'd never know they hadn't spent numerous nights in the gardens of Spain.

The only thing that keeps this from being a nice introduction to the zarzuela is that there are no texts included, not English, not even Spanish. They could at least have been put online somewhere, and people who can translate between these two languages are common as salt.

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