The large and vastly neglected Hispanic audience was served well last night in the Terrace Theater's "Evening of Zarzuelas." Even the standing room was sold out and many were turned away for this concert of arias from Spain's lyric theater, sung by Josefina Arregui' and Pedro Lavirgen, accompanied by pianist Pedro Carbone'. It was a gorgeous evening.
The zarzuela style is more demanding than its counterparts in French and German operetta, and its embellished vocal lines have much in common with bel canto. The differences are striking, however: Audible register changes are not vices, aspirating on appoggiatura is actually desirable, and for all its operatic influence the phrasing owes everything to flamenco.
The soprano Josefina Arregui' had not been heard here since her debut six years ago as Violetta opposite Jose' Carreras's Alfredo, when she had great success. Her middle voice is ravishing and clear, with smoky low notes and glottal drops reminiscent of Caballe'. The only drawback was a tendency for the sound to whiten to a vibratoless edge at the top when pushed, but her accuracy and sense of style were quite enough. In the popular "De Espana vengo" her vocal embroidery was as rich as the silk roses on her mantilla, and her disarming presence was a joy throughout the evening.
Pedro Lavirgen was not in top form. The tenor has a large, attractive voice which can float with a sweetly heroic texture. But he likes to scream, which is a pity because it makes him sound like Barry Morell. He was best in the duets, especially in a jewel from "Luisa Fernanda"; and worst in "Adio's Granada," which he sang twice.
Pedro Carbone' was a model accompanist, never ceasing to listen to the singer's every rhythmic nuance. Particularly beautiful was his dialogue with Arregui' in her romance from "El cabo primero," where the pianist seemed to breathe along with the singer through the long cadenza and the subtle changes in time.