- El centro de la tierra, opera
- Piezas (5) de El centro de la tierra, for piano
Arbós: El centro de la tierraby José Luis Temes
The third issue in Spanish label Verso's series devoted to the complete works of composer Enrique Fernández Arbós looks, for all intents and purposes, like an unassuming continuation of what so far has been a outstanding project -- reviving the never-before-recorded original works of Isaac Albéniz's brilliant amanuensis. What is inside, though, is a hilarious and thoroughly delightful rendering of what might be the most patently ridiculous operatic work ever conceived: the 1893 zarzuela "El centro de la tierra" (The Center of the Earth). The libretto is the product of a collaboration between a Spanish Army officer and sometime playwright and a political journalist who was additionally skilled as a witty versifier; its premiere was a complete failure that mollified Arbós' enthusiasm for the stage, and he never wrote another zarzuela. It is just as well, as it's likely that there will never be another zarzuela like this one! Here's a quick summary of the plot: Román is a worthless pensioner at the boarding house run by matronly concierge Pura, who does nothing but sit and play the accordion all day long. Pura is secretly in love with Román, but she is under pressure from her other would-be paramour, retired brigadier Don Doroteo, to get Román to pay up his back rent. When Román catches wind of Don Doroteo's position, he challenges Don Doroteo to a duel. The duel doesn't go off quite as planned, as all three characters drop into a crevasse that takes them to the center of the earth. There they are met by a civilization of rock people who are lorded over by a god and goddess; the three from up above are greeted as gods themselves and a betrothal is proposed between Román and the rock goddess. There is a single gem of incalculable wealth that belongs to the rock people that the super-terrestrial trio plot to steal, and there is a subplot where Román has to consider sacrificing his ear to his granitic bride-to-be as a wedding gift -- wait; does it really even make a difference what happens from this point? José Luis Temes, director of the Coro and Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid and of this project, is extremely lucky that this work has managed to survive in its full, original manuscript score. So many, many musical stage works from that time, even successful ones, exist only in a piano/vocal reduction or not at all. The orchestration, and indeed Arbós' music itself, is sparkling, witty, rife with wry quotations of Verdi and echt Wagner creeping out of the woodwork when the stage action reaches a particular plateau of faux pretentiousness. This performance is treated with the kind of tender loving care a period-instrument ensemble might lavish upon a Baroque opera. The soloists, theater-sized orchestra, and even the chorus are all excellent. There's a lot for them to sing, as the work contains many long stretches of set pieces that are there to give the music a little room to breathe and do not advance the story. (This must have been somewhat complicated, as Arbós mentions in his memoir, when only a dancer showed up to perform in the premiere.) Stylistically, Arbós' music rather like Victor Herbert with a Spanish accent, and indeed the work as a whole comes off a little like Naughty Marietta as reconfigured by Ed Wood, even as well performed as it is here. Opera fanciers who enjoy very guilty pleasures will be falling off their stools and turning purple with laughter with "El centro de la tierra." The libretto is in Spanish only, although the text is so full of nonsense and prattle that a summary of the action seems sufficient. Overall, the booklet is badly copyedited, but rich with illustrations that are in themselves amusing -- the performers look so serious in reviving a show about which Arbós himself said was "clearly not destined for success."
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsJosé Luis Temes Primary Artist
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