We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, November 2, 2015


Amaya Arberas, Alejandro Olmedo, Anna Tonna, Gabriela Granados, and Ricardo Rosa

Just as Spain is kind of a part of Europe but not exactly, so zarzuela is kind of an opera but not exactly.  Nor is zarzuela just one thing. This amalgam of operatic singing, popular song, spoken word, and dance can be thought of as Spain's response to the singspiel of Germany, the operetta of Austria, the opéra comique of France. Moreover, zarzuela in the baroque period was very different from zarzuela of the romantic period. Just as in European opera, the focus shifted from stories of mythic heroes and shepherdesses to stories about real people.

So, we are learning about an art form which evolved from the 17th c. to the 20th c.  To our knowledge no new zarzuelas have been written since WWII. Zarzuelas written in the New World began to show signs of revolutionary ideas, as opposed to the conservative maintenance of the status quo. We have much to learn and if this topic interests you, a good place to start is, of course, Wikipedia.

Yesterday afternoon we attended a festive gala produced by Amigos de la Zarzuela. What impressed us most about every singer was the quality missing from Friday night's recital at Carnegie Hall. The four singers employed body and soul to communicate with the audience. The involvement was fierce and we loved that quality. It felt so special to be drawn into their world.

Soprano Amaya Arberas, reviewed several times and very recently (reviews available through the search bar), sang 20th c. Cuban composer Rodrigo Prat's "Ana Maria Belén" from Maria Belén Chacón. One could believe her living the role, such was the level of intensity of involvement.

Her performance of the strophic "Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapí's 19th c. Las Hijas del Zebedeo was flirtatious and featured a marvelous vocalise, showing off Ms. Arberas' bel canto strengths.

But perhaps the selection we enjoyed the most was her duet with mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna.  Francisco Asenja Barbieri also composed during the 19th c. and "Niña que a vender flores" from Los Diamantes de la Corona was given a fine performance with the two voices joining in perfect harmony.

Ms. Tonna also had a fine solo in "De la Serrania: Loa al fandanguillo" a canción written by Modesto Romero in the early 20th c. The song is a passionate one and Ms. Tonna sang it with ample sazón, negotiating the turns without sacrificing the flamenco flavor.

Speaking of flamenco flavor, dancer Gabriela Granados contributed two lovely dances to the program. This was not the modernized overly-choreographed flamenco that has been boring us lately.  Nor was it the brooding authentic flamenco with its passionate heart-breaking singing.  Rather it was one classically trained dancer focused on communing with the music and with the audience.

The first number was the "Fandango" from Amadeo Vives' early 20th c. zarzuela Dona Francisquita. Ms. Granados employed no extravagant effects but danced with classical grace using castanets and footwork to fine advantage. Her second number was one she choreographed herself to Isaac Albeniz' "Tango". Gone were the castanets with a flirtatious fan taking its place.

Tenor Alejandro Olmedo has an expansive style and some wonderful training in the bel canto style which was revealed in the way he handled the beautiful pure vowels of the Spanish language. We enjoyed his "Te quiero morena" from Jose Serrano's El Trust de Los Tenorios.

The popular "No puede ser" from Pablo Sorozábal's La Tabernera del Puerto was sung with heart and soul and a wide range of feeling tone.

Ricardo Rosa has a sizable baritone with a pleasing vibrato. He sang "Mi aldea" from Jacinto Guerrero's early 20th c. zarzuela Los Gavilanes. Mr. Rosa must have a special affinity for the works of Guerrero; he joined voices with Ms. Tonna for a romantic duet from the composer's La Rosa del Azafrán.

His performance of the drinking song "Oh Licor que das la vida" from La Leyenda del Beso by Reveriano Soutullo y Juan Vert was performed with rhythm and panache.

One of our favorite zarzuela duets is that between the duchess and the dashing colonel from Federico Moreno Torroba's Luisa Fernanda which we just heard a few days earlier sung by singers from Argentina. We can well understand why it frequently winds up on recital programs because it is a charming flirtatious piece. Ms. Arberas and Mr. Olmedo brought the flirtation to vivid life.

The pianist for the evening was Maxim Anikushin. One would not expect so much Spanish sabor from a Russian soul but there it was! Mr. Anikushin seemed to be having as much fun as the dancer and singers. He opened the program with Antonio Soler's 18th c. piece, a relatively sedate Sonata.

Then he moved on to Isaac Albeniz' far more exciting Asturias, which served to set the Spanish tone for the evening. The A-section gave the piano an opportunity to sound like the guitar while the B-section was more lyrical.

He also performed Joaquin Larregla's most famous work for piano "Viva Navarra" in which melodies tumble forth, awakening memories of oft heard Spanish music.

The fine program drew to a close with a spirited toe-tapping finale--the quartet from Agua, Azucarillos y Aguardiente. Water, sweetmeats and booze.  Sounds good to us!

(c) meche kroop

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