- La Vida breve, opera, G. 35/39 (2 versions)
The music and drama of "La vida breve" place it closer to the conventions of late nineteenth century French and Italian opera than to the zarzuelas de Falla had written in his youth. In general, its music has a late Romantic cosmopolitanism, but distinctly Andalusian flavors come through clearly at certain folksy moments and in the dances. It's a gratifyingly lyrical work, with a sympathetic protagonist and a colorful supporting cast. It's not performed frequently, but it seems like it would be a natural for pairing with either "Cavalleria rusticana" or "I Pagliacci." Victoria de los Angeles made two complete recordings of "La vida breve." The first one, reissued here on Somm and conducted by Ernesto Halffter with a Spanish cast, was made early in her career, in 1954, when she was 31, six years after she sang the opera in a BBC broadcast. As Salud, the gypsy girl who dies of grief after being rejected by the man she loves, de los Angeles is in strong voice -- she sings with a pure yet rich tone that's consistently full and secure throughout her range. The freshness and youthfulness she brings to the role are especially poignant, and her singing is idiomatic and nuanced. Her background in the music of her homeland gives her a gracious ease with the subtlest inflections of authentic ornamentation. She recorded the role again in 1965 for EMI, with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting. Here again, she sings beautifully, and her voice has only gained a slight maturity since her original version. For the most part, the secondary roles are well taken in both recordings, although there are few internationally recognized stars among them. The exception to the generally high level of supporting roles is Somm's tenor Pablo Civil as Paco, the cad who betrays Salud, whose voice is pallid and whose flat characterization is less convincing than that of Carlo Cossutta, who sings with passion and ringing delivery on EMI. The recorded sound is adequate in the Somm version (although there are some awkward splices), but EMI's version is cleaner, with a much stronger presence. The EMI recording is generally superior, but the Somm version has its strengths, particularly in de los Angeles' fresh-voiced portrayal and Halffter's strongly idiomatic conducting.