Granados: Goyescas review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Herrera/Peña/Curtis/López/BBCSO and Singers/Pons
(Harmonia Mundi)
Based on paintings by Goya, Enrique Granados’s lost opera is full of melodic invention, energetically performed here

A set of piano pieces is an unlikely starting point for a stage work, but that is exactly how Goyescas, Enrique Granados’s only opera, was conceived. In 1914, Granados completed a piano suite of the same name, subtitled Los Majos Enamorados (The Majos in Love), which was inspired by Goya’s early paintings of life among the working classes of Madrid. After its success, the composer was encouraged to use the music of the suite as the raw material for an opera, with a libretto set among those characters immortalised by Goya. The Paris Opéra commissioned Goyescas, but because of the outbreak of the first world war, the first performance eventually took place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1916. It was while Granados and his wife were returning from the premiere that the ship on which they were travelling was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the English Channel, and both were drowned.

Granados: Goyescas album artwork.
Granados: Goyescas album artwork. Photograph: Harmonia Mundi

Though the Met performances were such a success that the composer was invited to Washington to meet the US president Woodrow Wilson, Goyescas has never been seen there again, and performances outside Spain have been rare. It is not difficult to understand why, for despite the score’s abundance of melodic invention, the quasi-verismo story wrapped around it is desperately thin and dramatically predictable.

There’s not much substance to any of the four stereotypical characters either, and as this recording, taken from a concert performance at the Barbican in London last year, shows, it’s the abundant choral writing and the colourful scoring that are the opera’s real attractions. Both come across vividly in Josep Pons’s energetic performance, and the BBC Singers and Symphony Orchestra are outstanding. Among the quartet of soloists, the soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera is very much the centre of attention as the aristocratic Rosario.

Also out this week

Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo is best known nowadays in the form of the one-act ballet pantomime, first performed in 1924. But it began in 1915 as a much less conventional dance piece, involving spoken narrations and a cantaora, a flamenco singer, with an ensemble of just 15 players. Though the Naxos recording from the Perspectives Ensemble under Angel Gil-Ordóñez claims to be of that 1915 version, it actually uses a much larger body of strings than the original. But with Esperanza Fernández as the cantaora, there’s no lack of bite and raw intensity, and paired with an equally pungent account of another of Falla’s utterly original music-theatre pieces, the chamber opera El Retablo de Maese Pedro, it’s a really desirable bargain.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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