This recording is historically important. It’s the first complete
recording of La vida breve, an opera that has never
won a real foothold in the repertoire – at least not outside
Spain. The reason for this is at least two-fold: dramatically
it is lop-sided: as in the comparatively long first act nothing
of importance happens while suddenly everything happens in
the much shorter second act and then just as suddenly the
drama is over. Also there is a similar lop-sidedness musically,
no doubt occasioned by the drama: the first act is principally
a 40-minute-long set of impressionistic water-colours asserting
the shimmering atmosphere of the siesta. The second
act depicts fiesta in a brashly colourful oil-canvas,
Goya-like, ending in bleak tragedy.
For the young Victoria de los Angeles the opera became the springboard
to international recognition and stardom after a BBC Third
Programme broadcast in 1948. This led to her being signed
up by EMI. The first result of this contract, which was renewed
again over a period of more than thirty years, was a record
(DB 6702) with Salud’s two arias from La vida breve.
This was recorded in the company’s Studio No. 1, Abbey Road,
on 14 March 1948 and released the following year. The conductor
of the newly formed Philharmonia Orchestra was Stanford Robinson.
The record has been reissued on numerous occasions; I have
it on EMI CDH 7 64028 2 in the company’s Références series.
It was issued in 1991 and is now probably out of print; at
least there were no hits when I searched EMI’s web catalogue.
The present recording was originally released on two LPs
(HMV LP 1050/51) in 1954 and here it comes digitally remastered
by Bryan Crimp.
It’s a golden opportunity to hear Victoria de los Angeles
at the beginning of her career - she had just turned thirty.
There is also a direct link to the composer in the presence
of Ernesto Halffter - unfortunately misspelt on the front
cover - as conductor. Halffter (1905–1989) was a pupil of
de Falla’s and a distinguished composer in his own right.
It is not necessarily so that a compatriot or a pupil of
a composer, not even the composer himself, is the best interpreter
of his music but it seems that in this case Halffter catches
the authentic atmosphere. It is a pity that the aged mono
recording is too primitive to catch the subtle scoring of
the music. There is a veil, however thin, between the music
and the listener and one has to use one’s imagination to
fill in what must have been lost in the process. The more
outgoing second act with its lively dances – notably the Danza
No. 1 (tr. 17) well-known through Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement
for violin and piano – also suffers from the recording quality.
The experienced Bryan Crimp has nevertheless done what lies
within the power of a human being and we should be eternally
grateful for the love and care spent on the remastering.
There is a host of peripheral characters inhabiting this
drama and it is nice to hear some Spanish singers of this
that de los Angeles was not alone in vocal excellence on
the Iberian peninsula. Abuela, the Grandmother, is sung with
dramatic conviction and fruity mezzo tone by Rosario Gomez;
heard to very best advantage on track 20. Emilio Payá’s Uncle
Sarvaor is also well in the picture and another baritone,
Fernando Cachadiña is a lively and powerful Manuel. Listen
to him, with an incisive chorus filling in comments, on track
16. Pablo Civil as the treacherous Paco, also sports a fine
lyric tenor voice of some beauty but it is of course Salud
who is at the centre of the action. La vida breve,
just as much as, say, Salome or Madama Butterfly,
is the heroine’s opera and Victoria de los Angeles is glorious.
Her voice is in prime condition, having gained some weight
during the six years that elapsed since she recorded the
two arias and recording them in connection with the complete
drama probably heightens her identification. The second aria
(tr. 18) especially catches her singing this dramatic and
bitter music with glowing intensity, her tone conveying both
anger, sorrow and vulnerability. The final scene is deeply
moving, though here there is also some overloading of the
None of my reservations concerning the opera and the sound should
deter anyone with an interest from acquiring this disc. One
has to make do without a libretto but the cued synopsis is
a useful substitute.
There have been a few other recordings of La Vida Breve since
this pioneering version was made – all of them in better
sound. Victoria de los Angeles re-recorded it in excellent
stereo sound in the mid-1960s with the Orquesta Nacional
de España under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. She had by then
lost a little of the freshness but in compensation she had
deepened her interpretation further and this is probably
the best recommendation. That set is currently available
in EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” in a two-disc
version comprising also the ballets El amor brujo and El
sombrero de tres picos (7243 5 67587 2 8 - see review).
Teresa Berganza also recorded it for DG in the 1970s and
years ago Naxos released a budget priced version, well worth
the small outlay.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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