Spanish Royal Gala
For me the music of the Spanish zarzuela, with its seemingly endless fund of melody, is one of the joys of life. This collection, recorded live at a royal gala concert in Madrid, provides a fair cross-section of its delights, from the insinuating low-life melodies of Chueca's El bateo and the ''Schottische of the Madrid Lyceum'' (the characters of La gran via are the streets and buildings of Madrid) to the passion of ''No puede ser'' from Sorozabal's La tabernera del puerto and the intensely Spanish rhythms of the jota from Breton's La Dolores. Can anyone fail to appreciate the grace of the ''Chorus of romantics'' from Vives's Dona Francisquita or the glorious lyricism of the serenade from Soutullo and Vert's El ultimo romantico?
I only wish my unreserved recommendation for the music could be matched by a recommendation for this collection as a whole. Alas, it is beset by the problems of presentation that have contributed so much to the zarzuela's failure to establish itself internationally. Quite apart from deterring potential purchasers by the mysterious title ''Gala de Reyes'' (wouldn't ''Royal Gala'' have been more buyer-friendly?), Pickwick have all too obviously had difficulty identifying the excerpts and their composers. More sadly, the performances and recording suffer from all the drawbacks of a live gala occasion. Gloriously as Domingo phrases such items as the Soutullo/Vert serenade, for instance, the debit side includes Guadalupe Sanchez's screechy soprano, some decidedly rough orchestral ensemble in the Prelude, poor vocal balance elsewhere, and a good deal of audience applause impinging on the music. All this is fair enough for someone who knows and loves the music as the Madrid audience clearly did, but will deter anyone unfamiliar with it. Those wanting an overview of the glories of the zarzuela would be better off with Philips's ''Antologia de la Zarzuela'' ((CD) 432 824-2PM, 7/92).'