Zorozábal La Tabernera del Puerto
First produced in Barcelona 60 years ago, this “nautical romance”, The hostess of the harbour tavern, was the ninth stage work of the Basque composer Sorozabal, one of the last notable writers of zarzuelas – a genre that was being overtaken by other forms, like the musical. Trained in Leipzig and Berlin, he was technically better equipped than the generality of zarzuelistas, as may be immediately heard in the orchestral prelude here (whose material is reprised at the start of Act 3): it calls for playing of superior quality, which Victor Pablo Perez is more fortunate in obtaining than was the case in the work’s earlier Hispavox recording conducted by the composer (nla), which included more of the dialogue. Both in harmony and orchestration Sorozabal was ahead of his fellows.
The haphazardly constructed story is uncertain whether to centre on the love of a seaman for a beautiful tavern-keeper, her subjugation by her brutal father, the jealousy of the other fishermen’s wives, or a sinister plot to smuggle drugs. A lovesick youth, Abel, with an accordion on which he can play only two chords seems surplus to requirements (and one can only applaud his eventual decision to dump it in the water), and the introduction of a group of black American sailors (who don’t even sing) is a conspicuous irrelevance. It is the music which saves things. Dramatic continuity is at a low ebb in Act 1, but this contains a habanera for three men, a lively low-comedy scene, a love scene and a waltz in which Marola, the heroine, tells the women of the port that if they smelled sweeter their men would be more responsive.
The musical core of the work is Act 2, though three of the four big solos in it are dramatically superfluous set-pieces – a “bird song” for Marola, a patter-song for Juan, her father, and a warning to the black sailors by an Englishman (for some reason) that whites will maltreat them. Then comes the only well-known number, “No puede ser” (which Domingo has recorded separately no less than five times), where the hero cannot believe that his adored one could be mixed up in anything shady. Marola has a soliloquy in melodrama form (i.e. spoken over music), and the act ends with a catchy trio. Act 3 is notable for a love duet with both singers in unison, a somewhat perfunctory storm at sea, and a final confession by Juan of his wrongdoings.
Pablo strikes a blow for the recrudescence of the zarzuela by gathering an admirable cast. Domingo is ardent, more forthright than the lyrical Alfredo Kraus in the earlier recording (who, truth to tell, sounded a trifle genteel for a fisherman), and is on fine form to cope with the considerable vocal demands that are made by the role. Maria Bayo, once past a rather obtrusive heavy throb in her voice in Act 1, makes a sympathetic heroine, dealing lightly with her coloratura in her Act 2 aria. As the drug-running heavy father, Juan Pons, with his black-voiced bass, is near ideal casting. And praise too for the other bass, Enrique Baquerizo, in the part of the Englishman. Well done, all!'