Rolando Villazón - Gitano
All but one of these come from what is described as the golden age of zarzuela, an entertainment dating back to the 18th century but enjoying its most productive and popular period in the first half of the the 20th. The earliest excerpt here is taken from Pérez Soriano’s El guitarrico (“The Little Guitar”) written in 1900. Most are from the 1920s and ’30s, a time when the musical comedies were still popular in Britain, with Moreno Torroba’s Maravilla marking the approaching close of the era in 1941. They are part of what tourists think of as “the old Spain”, though any serious guide will tell you that you need to go elsewhere (to the Escorial, for instance) for that. The national character is nevertheless unmistakable whereas The Maid of the Mountains and The Desert Song and so forth had any native national quality diluted by influences from Vienna and (already) the US. The exception to the general dating-period is the last item on the programme, from Luna by José Maria Cano, given a “triumphant” premiere at Valencia in 1998 and (to quote Christopher Webber’s note) “carrying the flag of Spanish music theatre into the 21st century”.
And I imagine that as long as there are singers of Rolando Villazón’s calibre to help, the proud advance may prosper. He is a most engaging champion. His rich tone is armed with an energetic thrust in the finely edged high notes. He is supple, a master of the distinctively Spanish art of vocal play. His manner carries total conviction (hear for example the number from Luisa Fernanda). He expresses gaiety as well as he does sadness (the “little guitar” song from La Alegría del batallón is a lively Spanish variant on “I got plenty o’ nuttin’”). And there is something warm about the man, found in his cartoon of himself and Domingo reproduced in the booklet, and in his tribute to the “dear maestro” for “bestowing the blaze of his glory on this recording”.