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Albeniz – Pepita Jimenez


Don Luis de Vargas – Placido Domingo

Pepita Jimenez – Carol Vaness

Antonona – Jane Henschel

Don Pedro de Vargas – Enrique Baquerizo

Vicar – Carlos Chausson

Count Genazahar – Jose Antonio Lopez

Chorus and Orchestra of la Comunidad, Madrid / cond Jose de Eusebio


Deutsche Grammophon – 00289 477 6234

Recorded 2004-05 – 2 CDs – 91 mins


The Pepita Jimenez of Juan Valera's successful first novel is a pretty young widow and an heiress. She is courted by both the fortune seeking Count Genazabar and the elderly Don Pedro de Vargas, but with naively innocent coquettishness she sets her hat at Don Pedro's son Don Luis, who is determined to pursue a life of celibacy and religious sanctity.


Both Pepita and her maidservant Antonona employ all their wiles to shake him from his vocation and he is constantly persuaded to agree to just one more farewell meeting. Finally Pepita looses patience with what she regards as over zealous piety and threatens suicide if he leaves her …. and there the story ends with Don Luis' conscience stretched to its limit and the outcome left to the reader's imagination.


It's a slight enough tale but one which in the hands of a good dramatist has recognisable potential. The rich banker and amateur poet Francis Money-Coutts who had already retained Albeniz to set a number of his poems to music, now wanted to produce a full scale opera and lighted on Pepita seemingly an ideal choice with its exotic Spanish setting.


Unfortunately, Money-Coutts seems to have been a poet in the William McGonagall mould and, from a plot that hinges on playful badinage and the subtle undermining of Don Luis' good intentions, he produced a libretto of overwhelmingly leaden solidity.


Albeniz tried his best. His orchestration is luxuriant, and his music sprightly and liberally sprinkled with exuberant Spanish rhythms, but he could do little to make lines like “Whence comes her toleration of that egregious dandy?” run off the tongue.


On this recording the cast sing with exemplary diction, which almost makes matters worse, and there are some strong American accents amongst them to confuse matters yet further.


Domingo's name on the cover will probably ensure a reasonable measure of sales. He is in fine voice and uses all his artistry to turn the vacillating Don Luis into something more than a cardboard cut-out. Carol Vaness catches Pepita's flirtatious nature, and Jane Henschel colours her tone cleverly to match Antonona's scheming. Enrique Baquerizo (Don Pedro) has a voice that commands attention. Like Domingo he is an active exponent of Zarzuela, and seems very much to have the measure of Albeniz's intentions.


A big chorus is deployed to sing 12 lines of verse, and a children's chorus has a similar allocation.


The orchestra plays superbly for Jose De Eusebio who also researched the project, rescuing the opera from deep obscurity, though I suspect only very temporarily.


Serena Fenwick


See also Albeniz's Merlin on CD & DVD,

and Domingo on DVD in Torroba's Luisa Fernanda