Albeniz – once again

I see that Deutsche Grammophon are publishing on the 14th of November a double disc of Isaac Albeniz’ two act comic opera, Pepita Jimenez. This is the third opera Albeniz composed with a libretto from the extraordinary Francis Burdett Money-Coutts (see my article of June 27 2005) and is consequently in English, though the story is based on the well known Spanish novel by Juan Valera.

There’s an impressive cast including the indefatigable Placido Domingo and the American soprano Carol Vaness. The conductor is Jose De Eusebio whom we have met in these articles before. He is responsible for pioneer recordings of the two other Albeniz/Coutts operas, both Decca recordings. Here he conducts the Madrid Community Orchestra and Chorus.

Juan Valera had an interesting ( and very privileged )life. Born in 1824 in Cabra, Córdoba to an aristocratic family he attended university in both Granada and Madrid. He subsequently entered the diplomatic service as a companion to the Duke of Rivas, Ambassador in Naples, where he dedicated his time to reading and Greek studies.

He also travelled to Portugal, Russia, Brazil, USA, Belgium and Austria. In 1861, Valera was admitted to the Real Academia Española and wrote various newspaper articles and essays, such as “Sobre el Quijote” (1864). He later wrote several books including”Las Ilusiones del Doctor Faustino (1875), “Doña Luz” (1879), and “Juanita la Larga” (1895), as well as Pepita Jimenez(1873).

Tim Ashley who reviewed the new recording in The Guardian last week, calls the story line of the two act comic opera ‘frothy’, which may be more the fault of the librettist than the original author. Apparently the novel tells the story of a wealthy young heiress and widow (Pepita) and her love for a young seminarian, Don Luis De Vargus, and although Ashley says the opera lacks memorable tunes*, he says it is beautifully performed, with Domingo ‘rolling back the years as her ardent young lover.

So here is another addition to the growing discography of Albeniz’s compositions, as his worth as a composer who contributed so much to the development of Spanish classical music, is increasingly recognized.

B.R.
* an enthusiastic review on Radio Three this morning takes a different view, arguing that the work proves that Albeniz was much more ‘than a mere composer of various works for piano’04/11/06