Magazine article The Spectator

Plain Spain

Magazine article The Spectator

Plain Spain

Article excerpt

Opera

Goyescas; L'Heure espagnole (Royal Albert Hall)

The Spanish theme at this year's Proms got its first full evening with two short operas, one by a Spaniard, the other about Spaniards, or anyway characters with Spanish names. Granados's Goyescas, a rather rare and very attractive work, was somewhat muted in its effect in the vast expanses of the Albert Hall. There is a case, I think, for miking singers there, not in order to deceive us about the size of their voices, but simply because when they have a full orchestra to contend with they are likely to be swamped. I know Elisabeth Schumann gave lieder recitals in the Albert Hall, and apparently they were a success, but she'd hardly have sung Eva there. The leading singers in Goyescas seem to have good but smallish voices, and with television cameras in the sight-lines between me and them for the benefit of BBC 4 viewers, no serious music any longer being broadcast on BBC 2 - they seemed even smaller. Visual effects were minimal, confined almost wholly to changes of lighting and to exits and entrances, so that I'm sure I shall enjoy the repeat radio broadcast considerably more; especially since the press office negligently didn't include the texts in my programme, so that I had no way of following this not very familiar opera in detail.

Now that Cav. and Pag. have separated, perhaps Goyescas could be paired with one of them, as a tale of violence and passion steeped in local colour. Neither the music nor the action seems to have any connection to the feel of any Goya painting or drawing, and the derivation from Granados's wonderful set of piano pieces is also unimportant, except for explaining the perfunctory nature of the vocal lines, a late addition to the score. What is fascinating about the work is its dangerous skirting of Spanish cliches, castanets always at the ready, a languid central fandango, but the freshness, if that's the word, of the inspiration even so. The effect, after seeing Glyndebourne's superb Carmen only a week before, was of an insider's view of Spain as opposed to the Spain gloriously mythologised by Bizet.

Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic took some time to adjust to the scale of the hall, but then splashed around happily in this opulent music, which belongs in period along with the lush preatonal Schoenberg, with Strauss, Scriabin and everyone who refused to admit that the fin de siecle was past. …

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