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.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Maxim Anikushin, Conchi Moyano, Anna Tonna, Alejandro Olmedo, and Ricardo Rosa

Everything we know about the art form known as zarzuela we learned from Maestro Jorge Parodi. Today we learned some more interesting facts, none of which were necessary to appreciate the gorgeous melodies. The word comes from the word "zarza" which means "blackberry bush". 

It was during the reign of King Felipe IV who ascended the Spanish throne in 1621 and was known as a patron of the arts, not to be confused with the miserable Felipe II of the Verdi opera Don Carlo. The King and his court frequented the Real Sitio del Pardo in Madrid which was surrounded by blackberry bushes. There they enjoyed musical and comedic entertainment.  Now you know!

As Spain is somewhat geographically removed from Europe, zarzuela evolved as Spain's very own musical entertainment. By the 18th c. Italian and French opera became all the rage and supplanted zarzuela, but there was a renaissance in the 19th c. when several excellent Spanish composers revived the artform. Indeed, zarzuela was carried to the New World where it flourished into the middle of the 20th c. It remains popular in Puerto Rico and we understand that Placido Domingo has done much to introduce zarzuela to our nation's capitol.

We have never seen a complete zarzuela but aim to do something about that! Every time we hear an aria or duet extracted from a zarzuela we long to see it in toto. The plots remind us of telenovelas and the melodies are memorable.

Yesterday Amigos de la Zarzuela presented one of their enjoyable afternoon concerts at Weill Recital Hall. It is satisfying to know that there is a sizable and enthusiastic audience for this analogue to German singspiel, French opéra comique, and Italian opera buffa.

The program was generous and included four experienced performers, one for each fach--soprano Conchi Moyano, mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna, tenor Alejandro Olmedo, and baritone Ricardo Rosa.

It would be difficult to single out any one number because they were all charming in their own way.  But since we love duets, let us note our admiration for "Porque de mis ojos los tuyos retiras" from Ruperto Chapi's La Revoltosa. It seemed to be an enactment of a lovers spat and reconciliation, performed by Ms. Tonna and Mr. Rosa. The singing was incomparable and the acting so effective that even a person ignorant of the Spanish language would have understood.

Ms. Tonna's instrument has a pleasing texture and plenty of strength in her lower register. We loved her melismatic singing in her solo "Loa al fandanguillo" by Romero.

Mr. Rosa's full throated baritone was just right for "Oh licor que das la vida" from Soutullo y Vert's La Leyenda del Beso.

"Caballero del alto plumero" is a marvelously flirtatious duet from Torroba's Luisa Fernanda, here given a marvelous performance by Ms. Moyano and Mr. Olmedo.

Ms. Moyano has an instrument of great power with an expansive top. She performed "La Petenera" from Torroba's La Marchenera with warm expansive tone and lovely phrasing.

Mr. Olmedo's best turn was in the romantic ballad "Flor roja" from Guerrero's Los Gavilanes in which he floated the high note with exceptional delicacy.

The pianist for the evening, Maxim Anikushin, certainly accompanied with sazon!  However, he also performed some solo works showing his pianistic skills without distraction. Our favorite without a doubt was the brief introspective "Intermezzo" by Manuel Ponce. We always prefer such pieces to the virtuoso ones but that is just our taste.

A special feature of the program was the dancing of Elizabeth Torras.
One rarely witnesses such versatility but we enjoyed Ms. Torras' dancing in three different styles. Dressed in flowing white and accompanying herself with castanets, she performed the graceful "La Boda de Luis Alonso" by Gimenez with all the grace of classical dance.

Dressed in masculine attire, she performed "Farruca del molinero" from Manuel de Falla's El Sombrero de Tres Picos (known on English programs as The Three-Cornered Hat. The simplicity of the piano rhythm gave her an opportunity to embellish the 4/4 rhythm with rapid and forceful Flamenco-inflected footwork.

In her final selection, she danced in a traditional Flamenco gown with a long train that she kicked around artistically and held up over her head at one point. Isaac Albeniz' Asturias was rhythmically and powerfully performed by both Ms. Torras and Mr. Anikushin. Her graceful arms suggested the arm movements of Indian dance which surely influenced Flamenco.

It certainly was a fine afternoon of music and dance, one we enjoyed immensely.

(c) meche kroop

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