(1956) Carmen Prietto with Bert Weedon – Songs from Mexico
Argo issue number: RG 70
Issued in the USA: as Westminster WN 18142
Cover picture: Olga Lehmann
Sleeve notes: Enid Gibson
Availability: never issued on CD
Carmen Prietto – soprano vocal
Bert Weedon – guitar
La Paloma Blanca
Pregúntale a las Estrellas (Puebla)
Mi Sueño (Oaxaca)
Yo no sé si me quieres (Early Californian)
Nadie me quiere (Early Californian)
Un pajarito (Mexico City)
El Perico (Mexican folk dance song)
La Calle de la Paloma
Encantadora María (Oaxaca)
El Galán Incognito (Spain/Latam)
Noche Serena (Northern Mexico)
Las Golondrinas (A. Villaverde)
La Golondrina (words Niceto de Zamacois, music Narciso Serradell Sevilla)
A collection of folk songs from Mexico sung in a sort of ‘art’ style by opera singer Carmen Prietto with British guitar legend Bert Weedon accompanying. A copy of the album was sent to me from Italy. It was recorded from the record on to reel-to-reel in the late fifties in Mexico. Amazing that it has survived. Aren’t people fantastically kind?
(If you want to hear more of the songs on the album, half a dozen have been posted on YouTube. Click here.)
Where possible, I’ve put in brackets in the track list where I understand the songs come from, though I guess the ‘early Californian’ songs will have been found in Mexico proper too. I’m no scholar of Mexican folk music, so if you’ve got any information, pass it on.
The lyrics to the track La Golondrina on Side Two were written, so most people say, in the early 1860s by the Basque poet, journalist and historian Niceto de Zamacois, who spent much of his adult life in Mexico. It was set to music around the same time by the Mexican composer and doctor Narciso Serradell Sevilla while in exile in Paris. It soon became the anthem of the Mexicans deported to France during that country’s occupation of their motherland.
La Golondrina crops up memorably in the greatest western ever made, The Wild Bunch, as the outlaws headed by William Holden leave the Mexican village for the final shoot-out and certain death. See it here and sob.
English lyrics – She Wears My Ring – were set to the melody by Felice & Boudleaux Bryant and recorded by loads of people, including Roy Orbison, Solomon King and Elvis.
Born in San Diego, California, of Mexican mother and Peruvian father (who was also a singer), Prietto had, by the time of this recording, lived most of her life in Los Angeles.
In 1954 she sang the role of Blonde in Mozart’s ‘Entfuhrung aus dem Serail’ opera at the Aix-en-Provence music festival, a recording of which is still available.
She made her London debut at the Victoria and Albert Museum, subsequently appearing at the Royal Festival Hall with the Boyd Neel String Orchestra. She was so well received that she was asked to return in March of 1955 to sing Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, says this record’s blurb.
In November 1955 she made her first (I think) appearance on Argo, singing the role of Polly in a recording of The Beggar’s Opera (Argo RG 76-78), which also got a release in the States on the Westminster label. “Charming”, said The Gramophone in its review.
Prietto had another go at recording Mexican songs (Canciones Mexicanas y Españolas) on the Swiss Beaux Prix label, this time with pianist Franz Zubal accompanying. But it’s even harder to find than this record.
By the time he participated on this record Bert Weedon was 36 and had served his apprenticeship with the orchestras of Cyril Stapleton, Ted Heath, The Squadronaires and Max Jaffa. He was still three years away from chart success under his own name with Guitar Boogie Shuffle – and two years from putting together the most important guitar playing manual EVER – Play in a Day.
Find out about Bert here.
Argo and Westminster
I’ve been trying to find out more about Argo’s relationship with the US Westminster label, but haven’t got very far. Westminster released this album and several others of the Argo folk, classical and spoken word output in the mid fifties but the deal seems to have lapsed after Decca took Argo over in 1957.
Argo and Westminster had pretty similar profiles as independent labels: adventurous and well-recorded classical and some folk. It was Westminster, for example, who released in the late ‘fifties the 11-volume set of LPs of Alan Lomax’s field trip to Spain of 1952-53. (Rounder had promised to reissue the albums in toto on CD as part of their Lomax Spanish Recordings series, but now they’ve been taken over by Starbucks’ partner Concord, I guess they won’t see the light of day again. Shame).
By the end of the ‘fifties Westminster had terrible financial problems and ended up getting eaten up by ABC-Paramount (who were looking to diversify into ‘serious’ music), issuing no more recordings after 1965. The back catalogue is now owned by Deutsche Grammophon.
A touch of velvet
Here’s what the Gramophone magazine made of this album when it came out:
“Carmen Prietto, accompanied by Bert Weedon on the guitar is quite fascinating in Songs from Mexico…Most of them are languorous love songs, but monotony is avoided by the interpolation of a few in livelier vein.
“I have never heard Miss Prietto in the flesh, though she has sung in England. She has a soprano voice with a touch of velvet in its quality and is evidently a versatile artist, having sung in operas by Bellini, Mozart and Verdi among others, and also in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’.”
The reviewer for Billboard liked it too. “Carmen Prietto sings this enchanting material with a voice of bell-like, lyric quality…For class shops.”