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Album Review: Judith Rodriguez's "Dreams of Gold: Zarzuela Arias by Barbieri"

By Alkis Karmpaliotis


In all my years of researching, listening to, and writing about opera, I had never truly appreciated the music of Spanish composer Francisco Asenjo Barbieri and his Zarzuela opera style. That is, until last month, when a a young soprano named Judith Rodriguez approached me for feedback on her debut album, a wonderful compilation of some of Barbieri's best arias.


Rodriguez is a Spanish music specialist based in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. She fell in love with Zarzuela very early in her career and would go on to study abroad in Spain, fully immersing herself in the study of Spanish opera. While Zarzuela is her specialty, Rodriguez has performed Italian operas to wide acclaim as well. In 2008, she made her operatic debut in Madrid as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly and has since sung other notable roles such as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi. In 2019, she made her debut in Florence with the title role of Suor Angelica.


Rodriguez celebrates the music of one of Zarzuela's founding fathers in her debut album, Dreams of Gold: Zarzuela Arias by Barbieri. "It was a long process, but the first piece that started it all was track number 8, Através de mis cristales, said Rodriguez. "The introduction just transported me to that time, 1872, and it then dawned on me that this album could be all about Barbieri." The record contains selections from numerous Barbieri operas, including Jugar con Fuego and El Diablo en el Poder. It also features pianist and conductor Julian Reed providing excellent accompaniment.


Dreams of Gold was originally supposed to be released in 2020, before being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a three-year delay. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, as its release date in 2023 aligns perfectly with Barbieri's bicentennial.



 

As soon as the first piece, Astro de los Amantes, a showstopper aria from the opera El Relámpago, came on, I was immediately taken aback by its beauty. The aria was sung beautifully, underlined by an excellent accompaniment from Reed. Rodriguez nailed a technically challenging trill at the end of the piece before masterfully concluding with a softer breath, allowing the music to fade away gently.


Some other highlights of the album include De Qué Me Sirve due to its passionate-sounding lines and virtuosic expression, and Con Bigote Retorcido because of its liveliness and crisp coloratura — not to mention the very well-executed high note at the end. In Domar Mi Orgullo, I loved the tension and build-up with the ascending half steps leading up to the beautiful middle passage, with its charming incorporation of a flute. Un Tiempo Fué was similarly impressive, with a wonderfully performed opening parlato recitative; the aria itself, which had an elegant bel canto style while maintaining its uniquely Spanish identity, was wonderfully sung. The middle section was particularly thrilling — credit to Reed for those booming base notes that resonated and perfectly complimented Rodriguez’s voice. Yo Tengo una Fragatilla was a lovely waltz that was simply delightful throughout, with an excellently performed finale, and the two pieces from Sueños de Oro were very touching. The album's finale was fiery and intense, a great way to round it out.


The selections throughout this album were superb, with a consistent style and pattern balanced throughout the record. None of the arias disappointed. Above all, I admired the colors of Rodriguez’s voice, which has a very even vibrato and the ability to oscillate between piano and forte, low and high, smooth and rough, at ease. Overall, I found this debut album to be a success, and, perhaps more importantly, a wonderful introduction to the wonderful genre of Zarzuela and the underrated masterpieces of Barbieri.

 

My name is Alkis Karmpaliotis, I'm a Junior at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and I founded AppreciateOpera.org in 2019 when I was 12 years old. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of my other articles and interviews!

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Thanks for calling attention to this compilation of zarzuela arias by Barbieri. I'm a zarzuela fan, too, and one of my favorite zarzuela recordings is one by Barbieri, "El Barberillo de Lavapies." Check it out, folks.


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