LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Júpiter y Semele
PERFORMER: Marta Almajano, Lola Casariego, Soledad Cardoso, Marina Pardo, Jordi Ricart, Jose Hernández, Virginia Ardid; Al Ayre Español/Eduardo López Banzo
CATALOGUE NO: HMI 987036-37
A zarzuela by a Baroque Mallorquin may sound like a most unpromising proposition, but Antonio de Literes’s Júpiter y Semele is actually an enchanting little drama, loosely based on Ovid’s tale of Semele’s doomed love for Jupiter. As was the tradition in this eclectic operatic genre, the main narrative is intercut with irrelevant and often comic subplots which serve as an excuse to introduce popular music and so lighten the tone. So, Literes’s score is full of jaunty numbers – brilliantly realised here with the obligatory Spanish castanets, strummed strings and a panoply of percussion instruments – but there are also moments of real serenity, including some fine ensemble writing and a beguiling lament sung by Jupiter on the death of Semele.
Eduardo López Banzo deserves every credit for bringing this work to life with such convincing vivacity. The recording comes from live performances given in Mallorca earlier this year, complete with modest stage effects and interpolated music to conjure up favourite Baroque set-pieces – storms, ship-wrecks, battles and the like. This is the sort of repertoire that Al Ayre Español does to perfection, so the end result sounds as polished as any studio recording. Soloists Marta Almajano, Lola Casariego and Soledad Cardoso deserve particular mention, but all the singers are well-cast and fully conversant with Baroque style, while the instrumentalists play with admirable vitality and spirit. Musically, Literes’s Semele may not match the quality of Handel’s, but it is full of joie de vivre and Hispanic brio. Kate Bolton