One of the great black holes in Western opera, at least as far as the average opera fan goes, is the world of Spanish zarzuela. Usually comic and comparable to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, zarzuelas last about an hour and -- back in the form's "golden age," which lasted from about 1870 until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 -- three to four would have been seen in the course of an evening. Recordings of zarzuela may be difficult to find outside of Spanish-speaking lands, but they are reasonably common and were so even in the historical, pre-Civil War period. Marina (1855) by Emilio Arrieta y Corera is one of the few zarzuelas preceding the Golden Age that remains in the active zarzuela repertoire, and it maintains a strong hold therein; it remains one of the most popular works of the Spanish theater. Musically, it is almost indistinguishable from Italian opera in the manner of Bellini or Donizetti, and it requires strong singers to carry the lead roles, and this 1929 recording featured two of the greatest male singers in Spanish opera: bass-baritone José Mardones and tenor Hipolito Lazaro. Soprano Mercedes Capsir isn't so bad herself, and obviously knows well the coloratura role of Marina. The chorus is a little shaky, but its untrained, working-class singing is part of the charm of historical recording; it sounds like home cooking, an opera of the people with none of the typical trappings of the opera house.
The recording is very good for the time, though it distorts in particularly loud passages, and this flaw is not as infrequent as one might like. Symposium prides itself to deliver the original sound of the records, and there is a faint amount of surface noise throughout, though it is never distracting. One thing that relegates this recording to the realm of the experts is its lack of a libretto of any kind; there's not even a brief summary of its action. The music, however, sparkles with effervescence and the singing is terrific. Opera fans with a taste for pre-Verdian Italian opera, and particularly those with the ability to speak Spanish, will decidedly get something out of it if they can weather the occasional blasting grooves.