What a stellar kickoff to the Opera Hispanica Festival! The two stellar sopranos pictured here would have offered sufficient entertainment value but there was so much more that it is difficult to know where to begin. Wednesday evening's event, the Festival Opening Concert and Reception, in cooperation with the Consulate General of Argentina, was a celebration of the arts and culture of Argentina and the tango was very much present. We have room to describe only the highlights.
The violin of Sami Merdinian and the cello of Yves Dharamraj were joined by the piano of Artistic Director Jorge Parodi and the exciting bandoneón of JP Jofre for Mr. Jofre's
"Tango Movements" which he composed originally for symphony orchestra. The spirited first movement gave way to a soulful center section and the contrast of Mr. Jofre's playing was fascinating to see and hear.
Fleet-fingered guitarist Tali Roth played her own devilishly difficult arrangement of Libertango, heard earlier in the program on violin and cello. World-reknowned soprano Isabel Leonard thrilled with her performance of Xavier Monsalvatge's Cinco Canciones Negras, accompanied by Mr. Parodi. The program closed with selections from Maria de Buenos Aires, a tango opera by Astor Piazzolla which will be the capstone of the festival. Maria was sung by mezzo Malena Dayen and the baritone role by Marcelo Guzzo, with a small orchestra conducted by Mr. Parodi. Mr. Jofre again dazzled with his bandoneón, played with artistry and passion.
The following evening at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute was no less exciting as Daniel Hernandez, Founder and Executive Director of Opera Hispanica, assembled an illustrious group of experts for a panel discussion of zarzuela. Playwright/diplomat Íñigo Ramírez de Haro served as moderator while composer Ricardo Llorca discussed the musical origins of zarzuela in 18th c. Spain. There was an interesting cultural phenomenon which finds parallels in today's world; as the aristocracy went into decline, there evolved an imitation of the lower classes in musical taste as well as dance. Having originated in France with aristocrats dressing as peasants and frolicking in the countryside, the trend spread throughout Europe. The zarzuela used traditional Spanish music melded with European forms and became a popular tradition, carried over to the New World, evolving still further in Cuba, Mexico and S. America.
Dr. Janet Sturman, an ethnomusicologist from the University of Arizona and author of Zarzuela: Spanish Operetta described how classical-historical tales gave way to populist tales, in much the same way as opera seria eventually gave way to realismo. The art form requires superb singers who can also act and dance since this is a story-driven form with few arias that can be excerpted for concert performance.
Maestro Parodi filled us in on the art form from the Argentinian perspective. In his country, the upper classes were Spanish but the immigrants who arrived came from Italy and brought along their operatic heritage which competed with the Spanish tradition. It was interesting to learn that in the early 20th c. there were five major opera theatres in Buenos Aires. With Piazzola's Maria de Buenos Aires, it is evident that Argenina has made zarzuela its very own.
There was a lot of information to digest and like a tonic for weary minds, the superb soprano Amaya Arberas demonstrated for the audience "Carceleras" from Las hijas del Zebedeo by Ruperto Chapi and baritone Yunpeng Wang, winner of the Zarzuela Award in Placido Domingo's international opera competition Operalia performed "Amor vida de mi vida" from Maravilla by Federico Moreno Torroba. Guitar accompaniment was by the excellent David Galvez.
The festival will continue with tonight's recital by Eglise Gutiérrez and Maestro Parodi at the Americas Society with next week's offering being the tango opera at Le Poisson Rouge. It is worth noting and celebrating the fact that Mr. Hernandez has established the one and only opera company in the United States devoted exclusively to Spanish and Latin American music and music dealing with that culture. He has surely filled a gap in the world of music.
(c) meche kroop