Falla: La vida breve

Nancy Fabiola Herrera, et al; RTVE Symphony Chorus; BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena (Chandos)

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CD_CHAN20032_Falla

Falla
La vida breve
Nancy Fabiola Herrera, Christina Faus, Raquel Lojendio, Aquiles Machado, Gustavo Peña, José Antonio López, Josep Miquel Ramón; Segundo Falcón (flamenco); Vicente Coves (guitar); RTVE Symphony Chorus; BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
Chandos CHAN 20032   62:08 mins

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This recording was made last summer, at the end of Juanjo Mena’s tenure in charge of the BBC Philharmonic – a fruitful partnership for Chandos, for whom they have filled catalogue gaps across a spectrum of Spanish and Latin American music, from Albéniz and Turina to Ginastera and, most recently, Arriaga, the ‘Spanish Mozart’. Falla’s one-acter – begun in 1904, the same year as Madam Butterfly, but not performed until 1913 – is the quintessential Spanish verismo opera, and while there’s plenty of Iberian flavour to this recording, including a flamenco cantor of properly reedy vocal depth, Mena never lets us forget that the work is in that Italian tradition. If the set-piece dances don’t quite burst out of the speakers, that’s because they are part of a bigger dramatic picture.

Salud, the Andalusian gypsy girl who loves Paco and gatecrashes his wedding party only to drop dead at his feet, is sung by Nancy Fabiola Herrera, whose voice is up to every expressive nuance of the role. She is compelling, even if she doesn’t sound as ideally fresh as Victoria de los Angeles, the Salud of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos’s recording; Fabiola Herrera’s consonants are quite a way back in her voice, and when her thoughts take a tragic turn she can sound older than Cristina Faus, who plays her grandmother. Faithless Paco is sung with the verve of a true rake by Aquiles Machado, and the smaller parts are all well cast, especially Gustavo Peña singing the Voice from the Forge, an unseen yet crucial role whose reiterations of the opera’s mantra – ‘Wretched is the man born to be an anvil rather than a hammer’ – add real character.

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Erica Jeal