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, April 8, 2019


Pablo Zinger, Linda Collazo, and Maria Brea

Yesterday we were lured into Brooklyn by the promise of zarzuela; regular readers will recall our fondness for this Hispanic art form. The promise was fulfilled and our highest expectations were met. Moreover we got to learn more from Mr. Zarzuela--Maestro Pablo Zinger who was the collaborative pianist at this fulfilling recital.

Ms. Brea and Ms. Collazo make a dynamite duo and, as much as we loved their solos, our enjoyment was over the top when they harmonized in duets--Maria with her bright expansive soprano and Ms. Collazo with her firmly centered and textured mezzo. We have heard them together before since they co-founded Voces Unidas to raise money for RAICES. Is there a better way to use one's gifts than to help others?

The venue and the sponsoring organization were new to us, largely because we rarely have time to venture across the bridge. Vertical Player Repertory is a pioneer of the alternative opera movement in New York City and was founded by sculptor/singer/impresario Judith Barnes over 20 years ago in a Brooklyn storefront. Many of her performances take place in unconventional venues; an ongoing series entitled "miniatures behind the door" comprises interesting programs beyond vocal recitals but it is the latter which interests us.

The first half of the program consisted of zarzuelas and nothing but zarzuelas; we were in seventh heaven. Maestro Zinger explained how these entertaining pieces of musical theater were birthed in 17th c. Spain by King Philip IV and how they became popular in the mid 19th c. as composers were encouraged to express nationalistic fervor. Although influenced by Italian opera, Spain needed its own art form. Zarzuela achieved a new impact in the New World as Spaniards immigrated to Latin America. A new emphasis was racial and class distinction as we heard later in works from Cuba.

From the fertile period of the mid 19th c. (our favorite musical period) we heard Ms. Brea and Ms. Collazo harmonize beautifully in "Niñas que vais a Granada" from Francisco Asenjo Barbieri's Los diamantes de la corona. The duet speaks to us of the dangers of losing one's heart to a love bandit.

From Federico Chueca's La Gran Via, Ms. Collazo gave a charming interpretation of a loveable maid with unloveable qualities in "Tango de la Menegilda". She created a quite different mood in the rapid fire "Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapí's Las hijas del Zebedeo. This is a passionate tongue twister if ever we heard one! Even more radically different was "Yo soy María" from Astor Piazzolla's tango operita which we just heard and reviewed the day before. Frankly, we liked Ms. Collazo's interpretation better since it was unamplified and we could understand the words.

Ms. Brea achieved the same variety in her selections. We have heard her sing "Me llaman la primorosa" before and it always makes us want to see Miguel Nieto's El barbero de Sevilla in its entirety. The plot involves a company producing the Rossini opera. Ms. Brea's character is very proud of her physical attractions! In "Petenera" from Federico Moreno Torroba's La Marchenera a woman describes her love and, if we are not mistaken, suggests a doble oído. She is waiting for her rose bush to bloom so she can give her beloved the first rose!

From the 1939 zarzuela Cecilia Valdés, composed by the Cuban composer  Gonzalo Roig, she performed "Salida de Cecilia Valdés" with help from a "chorus" comprising Maestro Zinger and Ms. Collazo. The character she plays is completely irrepressible! The rhythms had us swaying in our chair. 

There was one more duet that delighted us--the Habanera: "Canta y no llores", from Don Gil de Alcalá, composed by the Spaniard Manuel Penella and set in a Mexican convent. Here the rhythm was a gentle swaying one.

The second half of the program would have been more familiar to the average lover of art song. Indeed there was nothing we haven't heard many times before but we found much to appreciate in the performances. 

Ms. Brea performed Cuatro madrigales amatorios by the 20th c. Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. (We are embarrassed to admit that we never connected his name with the Concierto de Aranjuez which we have known and loved for decades!) The songs have different moods and we loved the way Ms. Brea colored her voice differently for sorrow and shame, lust, jealousy and anger, and elation. Maestro Zinger shared what the songs were really about.

She also performed "Allí está riyendo" from Manuel de Falla's 1913 opera La vida breve which put Spain on the musical map. The heroine, a gypsy, is so heartbroken she dies of love. Maestro Zinger gave us some giggles when he pointed out that in Italian opera the heroine must die violently.

Ms. Collazo brought new life to Xavier Montsalvatge's 20th c. song cycle Cinco canciones negras. "Cuba dentro de un piano" has text that is symbolic whereas "Punto de Habanera" is more descriptive. Our favorite has always been "Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito". The text is heartbreaking to our 21st c. sensibilities but it is so beautiful to hear!

The program closed with some "popular" songs and y'all know how we feel about that distinction. Hearing trained voices without amplification surely blurs the difference between "popular" and "art" songs. Ms. Brea performed one by the Mexican composer Consuelo Velásquez which has achieved worldwide popularity; who doesn't know "Besame mucho"! She invested the song with a lot of variety from one verse to the next and met the challenge of a low tessitura. 

Ms. Collazo's contribution was the melodic "Te quiero dijiste" composed by the Mexican María Grever who studied with Debussy in France. Isn't it interesting that two such gifted women composers came out of Mexico in the early 20th c.? And today we have so many fine young singers coming from our southern neighbor.

So we had two fine female Latin American singers performing songs by two fine female Latin American composers!  The program closed with the two singing Grever's "Júrame" with lovely overlapping phrases. The promise was fulfilled!

(c) meche kroop

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