Premiere of Madrid music series “El canto de Polifemo” in the Chueca section of Madrid – “Aquel Trovar”

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Premiere of Madrid music series “El canto de Polifemo” in the Chueca section of Madrid – “Aquel Trovar”

My tireless colleague and friend, the concert producer Francisco “Paco” Quirce, formerly of Aeterna Musica, has baptized a new music series in Madrid called “El canto de Polifemo” (The song of Polifemus). The event took place in the magical church of Iglesia de las Mercedarias Gongoras in the Chueca neighborhood. With a Homeric title that breathes of ancient Greek allusions, the series kicked off with the early music ensemble “Aquel Trovar”, in a  concert entitled “Songs of Old Europe”.  The ensemble was composed by Antonio Torralba (flutes); Josè Ignacio Fernández (renaissance guitar and bandurria); Daniel Sáez Conde, bass rabel and “colascione”; and well known soprano and early music specialist Delia Angúndez.

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Ensemble “Aquel Trovar”

The church is part of a cloistered convent that opens to the general public for mass only a few days a week. An intact late baroque structure, with its original tapestries and altar as well as neoclassical style cupola, it is a true insiders visit.  I saw various painted relic keepers that were done in a naive style, which were quite charming.

Paco Quirce in his opening speech did a recitation of a poem by the Spanish Golden Age poet Luis de Gongora, after which the concert began.  Without fanfare the group began with the beautiful and well known Spanish renaissance tune “Pámpano verde” by Francisco de la Torre (1460-1504).  In a program which was Pan European in conception, we heard songs from early to mid renaissance that spanned Spain, France, Germany, Poland and England.  Exhibiting the cultivation of troubador culture and aesthetics, the musical selections of the evening showed both differences and common ground of profane song in Europe of the time. With only two brief instrumental pieces, the evening exhibited songs of all affects, with Delia Agúndez luminous and pure soprano (showed off to great advantage in the acoustic of the Iglesia de las Mercedarias) in a variety of moods and languages, some done with great theatrical flare, such as the song “Es hett ein bidermann ein Weib” by Ludwig Senfl (1468-1542). The program included songs that recalled the Merry England of H.R. H Elizabeth I with the “Robyn, gentle Robnyn” by William Cornysh (1465-1523) and the jocund “Three ravens” by Thomas Ravenscroft (1582-1633).  Her colleagues hailed from Cordoba (Spain), and played with great virtuosity at times; string player Sáez Conde showed the rarely heard and seen instruments such as the bass rabel, a stringed instrument that is native of Spain.

The program, because of its charm, variety and accessibility was attractive and enjoyable. Over 180 persons filled La iglesia de las Mercedarias and the concert was met with full approval, and the beckoning of two separate encores to cap off the success of the evening.

The new disc release of “Aquel Trovar” which showcases the repertoire of the concert has been recently released, and can be heard on all the digital platforms, as well as purchased on iTunes and Amazon.

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While in Spain: world premiere of a cantata by Polish composer Alina Blonska

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While in Spain: world premiere of a cantata by Polish composer Alina Blonska

An interesting concert to celebrate the 500th year of the protestant reformation took place on the 28th of October of 2017, at the Iglesia Alemana (also known as Friedenskirche) in Madrid (Paseo de la Castellana, 6).  Of Neo-byzantine design, this church once formed part of the German embassy, and is a “hidden gem” in the very heart of Madrid:

Inside of "Friedenskirche", a protestant church dated 1909 in Madrid (Spain)

The interior of “La iglesia alemana” also known as Friedenskirche in the heart of Madrid

The musical program of the concert included solo organ pieces by Buxtehude, J.S. Bach, Heinrich Scheidemann and Juan Batista Cabanilles, played upon a beautiful pipe organ (make and year unknown to me).  I especially enjoyed Spanish organist Luis Mazorra, who played with aplomb the virtuosic Passcaglia, BWV 582 by Bach as well as the Pasacalles II by Spanish baroque composer Juan Bautista Cabanilles (1644-1712).

A cantata sung by  bass Malte Frovel, accompanied by a baroque instrument ensemble of the cantata “Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” by a contemporary of J.C. Bach, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749) was a great discovery.

The concert ended with an exceptional composition newly created by Polish composer and resident of Madrid, Alina Blonska, b. 1974. This composer was commissioned to compose and world premiere a new cantata for the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation, being celebrated world wide by the Evanglische Kirche in Deutschland.

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The program notes of Kantate “Christ ist erstanden” (Christ has risen) state that the commission was by invitation of pastor Simon Döbrich of said church. “The principal idea gyrates around Martin Luther, and searches to bring us close to Luther’s spiritual thought, which is the ethos of the German speaking congregation at Friedenskirche. For this reason, the cantata includes fragments chosen directly from Luther’s writings.  The title makes reference to the German Easter song “Christ has risen”, and which forms an important element of the aesthetic of the cantata as a whole.  The piece pretends to re issue a new look towards this anachronistic genre, which was brought to its apogee  in the first half of the 18th century by Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Rigorous but always elegant, the composition employed  baroque instrumentation, organ (in this instance performed by Polish organist Marta Misztal), soprano and baritone. The piece began with spartan bareness, with a rising melody sung by the  soprano voice in chant;  the cantata continued with a layering of elements, given off a sensation of a union of anachronistic musical language (older than baroque, with allusions to medieval church chant) together with a contemporary music aesthetic that was in perfect balance and accord for a celebration in modern day of Martin Luther’s vision.  Under the direction of Alejandro Trapero, the ensemble sounded balanced and in sync. The wonderful acoustic at Friedenshkirche was an attractive frame for the piece. My colleague Urzsula Bardlowska’s lyric soprano exhibited a rounded and attractive tone which reminded me very much of the young Lucia Popp.  The Venezuelan baritone John Heath sang his lines with emotion (which by contrast to the soprano’s melodies, contained a more contemporary line), exhibited to my ear the more earthy aspects of the philosophy or message of the cantata.

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Polish soprano Urszula Bardlowska

Ms. Blonska’s resume includes premieres in numerous festivals in both Poland and Spain, as well as in France, England, Belarus, Germany, Sweden and Mexico. She participates in the project Laboratorio de Informática y Electrónica Musical Centro de Tecnología del Espectáculo (a branch of Spain’s INAEM), which is supported by the Polish Cultural Institute in Madrid. She is currently working on a sound disc recording of her works.

Pictured to the left in the red jacket is composer Alina Blonska

Pictured to the left and in red is composer Alina Blonska after the premiere of her cantata, “Christ ist erstanden”

The concert concluded with the serving of German beer underneath the trees of the patio of the Friedenskirche, the meeting of old and new friends at my new-to-me Madrid site.

 

“Enrique Granados y su época” congress in Murcia (Spain) and “La fiesta de la tonadilla” recital at the Real Casino de Murcia

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“Enrique Granados y su época” congress in Murcia (Spain) and “La fiesta de la tonadilla” recital at the Real Casino de Murcia

As a surprise activity for my current trip to Spain, via my friend the Spanish stage director Curro Carreres, I participated this past week in an interesting conference hosted by the Universidad de Murcia, organized by Enrique Encabo and Electra de la Osa that dealt with the times and epoch that surrounded composer Enrique (Enric) Granados (1867-1916). Having a hand in the music programming at Hispanic Society Library & Museum in New York City on the occasion of the Granados Centennial as well as in the conference led by the Iberian Music Center in New York City in 2016, I was asked to be part of the talks at the conference in Murcia, as well as sing a recital with pianist Borja Mariño

Congreso Internacional

18, 19 y 20 de octubre, 2017

En ocasión de María del Carmen

Enrique Granados y su época

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I got a second shot to revise my paper about the song “La maja de Goya” which forms part of the song cycle for voice and piano by Granados, Tonadillas al estilo antiguo (1913).  I shared my findings from both old and new editions that help to understand why the performance practice of including the recited “melodrama” was lost, and  presently point the way to give performers the option (or not) to include the recitation in modern day performances.  My paper is aptly titled “¿Vestida or desnuda?”, since the original title of the song was “La maja desnuda”, a play on the title of the Picasso painting as well as presenting the option to include or not include the Periquet recited text.

The set of 12 songs are almost never done in their entirety, as they include one song for baritone (usually sung by a female voice, “El majo olvidado”); a duet for two female voices which on rare occasions is sung as a solo song (“Las currutacas modestas”); “La Maja dolorosa I” which includes an obbligato for English horn; and the focus of my paper, the song “La maja de Goya” which has a recited section of text authored by the writer of the Tonadillas text Fernando Periquet (1873-1940); this particular song has the indication for the text to be declaimed over an instrumental piano and is traditionally omitted; now with new editions that are currently in print that include the entire text, there is now the option to restore the performance practice of inserting the declamation originally intended by both Periquet and Granados.  Borja and myself had the opportunity at Hispanic Society in New York City in December of 2015 to do the entire Tonadillas al estilo antiguo with all its elements, with the participation of a soprano, baritone and English horn player in addition to myself.

The complete songs of Enrique Granados revised by Manuel Garcia Morante and edited by Tritó is one of the first modern editions to include the recited portion written by Fernando Periquet in “La maja de Goya”:

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A recently published interpretative guide called Guía interpretativa Tonadillas en estilo antiguo by American pianist Mac McClure and Cuban Spanish mezzo soprano Marisa Martins, edited by Boileau in Barcelona is a great addition to the library of Spanish vocal music interpreters and enthusiasts. This edition includes the score as well as texts and CD of the cycle containing a recording of all texts, both spoken and sung (a thoughtful bonus is the inclusion of the IPA of all  sung texts of the Tonadillas cycle); the CD includes the “La maja de Goya” recitation with the piano accompaniment.

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My paper dealt with restoring the context to bring about once more, the practice of doing the recited section of “La maja de Goya”. At the end of my talk, I projected the video of Borja and myself performing this piece at Hispanic Society, a concert that was part of the Granados Centennial Celebration year.

As there was no obvious context to present a recital of songs by Granados that had a close relationship with the Granados’ opera María del Carmen (1898), I opted to make something old new again:   due to my research that looked into the circumstances that gave way to the creation of the Tonadillas al estilo antiguo, I decided to program all the Tonadillas (minus “El majo olvidado”) in a concert that aimed to recreate the premiere of the cycle, make known those first interpreters that formed part of the premiere, as well as readings selected from excerpts from newspaper impressions about the event.  Here is one of the newspaper clippings of the day, which called the event “La fiesta de la tonadilla”, which I adopted as the title of the concert in Murcia.

La fiesta de la tonadilla clipping 1913

The University of Murcia arranged the concert on October 19, 2017 at the Belle Époque setting of El Real Casino de Murcia, in a beautiful room with grand piano.  To end the concert, we programmed a happy folk tune, “La canción de la zagalica”, taken from the opera María del Carmen, a gesture much appreciated not only by the conference organizers, but by the public due to its familiar tune and rhythms from the region.

Program “La Fiesta de la Tonadilla” October 19, 2017, Real Casino de Murcia

There was an impressive line up of world class scholars that deal with Enrique Granados in a multiple of aspects, from piano rolls, to dance, film, iconography as well as literary criticism.

 

Collage of photos of presentations at the congress by Enrique Encabo, Jordi Roque and Inmaculada Matía Polo

I unfortunately had to leave early and missed the exposition and debates moderated by the much admired Dr. Miriam Perendones, author of the epistolary of Enrique Granados, recently published by Boileau.  I had posed several questions to Dr. Perendones such as: What were the circumstances of the creation of the Tonadillas? what was the nature of the collaboration between Periquet and Granados? Why did they embark on the project? what was the premiere like, how was it received? absolutely all my questions were answered in her doctoral thesis and papers that she very kindly provided me for my own study.

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We had a great showing at the Real Casino de Murcia, which is an elegant 19th century building that emulates the Alhambra from Granada. We had a full house for “La fiesta de la tonadilla” and the concert was received by an appreciative audience, always a gratifying experience for the performers!

I whole heartedly congratulate the music department at the University of Murcia for helping to further knowledge on the life and works of Enrique Granados.

 

Photo taken during the performance of “La fiesta de la Tonadilla” at the Real Casino de Murcia as well as a photo after the performance with pianist Borja Mariño, and the cover art for the concert.

Semiramide Challenge Days #7 #8 #9 and a love letter to American Rossini soprano Lella Cuberli

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Semiramide Challenge Days #7 #8 #9 and a love letter to American Rossini soprano Lella Cuberli

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American soprano and Rossini interpreter extraordinaire Lella Cuberli as Semiramide

 

I must confess I did not crack the score on days #7 and #8. Today on day #9, I continued to work on the second act aria for Arsace “In si barbara”, and can now sing thru it although not all sections at high speed. In terms of cadenzas for the repeats, I let the ornaments “come” organically. As I start learning the runs and notes and become familiar with the emotions of the character, my brain automatically generates the ornaments; already some of the flourishes have started to  come out by themselves, although I’m not currently writing them down. I read over the runs that are in the Ricci book that are indicated for “In si barbara” by the mezzo Marchisio sister, but they seem dated and or old fashioned, and are not attractive to me.

In general the tessitura is low, the same as my speaking voice almost; its a true “contraltina” aria.  In Rossini’s time it would of been perhaps a quarter of tone lower due to the diapason levels of the time.

I am now listening to the French mezzo soprano Martine Dupuy and Texan born soprano Lella Cuberli’s  second act duet “Ebben, ferisci” that is on YouTube dated 1990 (Paris). Dupuy is higher voiced mezzo, more mellow, perhaps not as incisive or as “macho” as Marilyn Horne, although I love her musicality and expression;  the cavatina section of the duet I must say is extremely musical and in sync; the trills and mesa di voces they do together are astonishingly beautiful.

My plan for the rest of the week is for me to review what I have learned up until now, and finally start vocalizing “Ebben, feresci”; its a beast of a duet and is theatrically at a fevered pitch, as the gloves come off when they arrive at the knowledge of the Oedipal situation, as well as the fact that Semiramide helped kill her husband (Arsace’s father).  The duet reads like some sort of controlled but divinely sounding hysteria, which comes off energy wise as feeling of riding tightly reined in wild  horses…

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So few years back I bought on a lark a solo CD of Rossini arias with orchestra of Lella Cuberli. I loved it so much that the CD jacket promptly fell apart. I couldn’t get enough of it, especially her Matilde di Shabran rondeau . This CD is now worth almost $80 on Amazon! it doesn’t seem to be available. Here is the clip from said disc on YouTube:

Ms. Cuberli is one of my all time favorite Rossini interpreters; it is astonishing that there is no commercial disc that documents her portrayal of Semiramide. We are lucky though to have numerous live performances that her fans have posted on YouTube for us to enjoy and learn from.  I bought on Ebay practically new LP of her Tancredi, which come to think of it, I will take out tomorrow and give it a listen.

 

 

Starting Arsace’s rondeau “In si barbara” Days #5 – #6 of Semiramide Challenge 2017

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Starting Arsace’s rondeau “In si barbara” Days #5 – #6 of Semiramide Challenge 2017

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Yesterday was a kind of a nitty gritty day: coloratura learning is a lonely task, its just your butt at that piano, playing harmonies and learning scales. Unlike some of the thru composed music of later decades, hearing your coloratura passages in your head and understanding the scale is super important, but it goes hand in hand with singing those scales and intricate patterns over and over; and then when you really know it (even before) it needs to have emotion or meaning behind it.

I had a inward “gulp” moment (like oh my gosh what did I get myself into) a few days ago when I saw this amazing video of Marilyn Horne singing
“In si barbara” in a concert in Versailles, dated 1985. Its a filn shot as if it were a concert being viewed by Rossini himself, a fabulous fantasy costumed production, check it out:

So I searched on youtube with the words “In si barbara” and Rossini, and this is the only thing that came up. No excerpts of this being done as a solo piece, concert piece, etc… from what I have seen, this is probably the version by which this aria can really be measured;  she is hands down amazing; this clip my friends is definitely awe inspiring.

I started yesterday vocalizing the cavatina of this piece super slowly, as well as tackling the bridge section (a pre cabaletta with triplet figures), which happens before the real fireworks begin. The cabaletta has a male chorus like so many of these Rossini rondeaus, where there is sword waving, egging on and general great fun. The scales are not overly hard, but doing them at great speed could be difficult. I’m not there yet with it.  Since I want to sing it as a concert piece this fall, I discovered that the old Max Spicker Alto and Soprano aria book (edited by Pattelsons in NYC in the 1980’s, and which seems to be out of print) conveniently has this very same rondeau with the male chorus written out and ready for a solo concert with the pianist! I photocopied it today…

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I will be checking out Jennifer Laramore’s recorded version of this aria this week without fail and see what she does, her ornamentation choices as well as tempos. For now I’m plugging away at this aria slowly but surely. Today (day #6), I did not sit at the piano, but I did review and look at the score during a long subway ride to Brooklyn; I’ve gone thru and can hear in my head the first act, including the recitatives (minus the quintet). I will now chip away at the second act, as I come into my second week of the Semiramide challenge 2017.  I still have the second act duet with the soprano to contend with.  I already have a coaching set up on August 9th and August 11th.

Found this neat “deco” orientalist painting of our favorite sultry and “evil like” sex kitten. If I was to update this opera to the present, it would have to be to one of those 1980’s night time soap operas, like Falcon Crest or Dynasty. Joan Collins would of made a fabulous Queen Semiramide in my opinion…

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Semiramide Challenge 2017 Day #4, recitative before “Serbami ognor”, interesting…

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Semiramide Challenge 2017 Day #4, recitative before “Serbami ognor”, interesting…

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Rossini leaves no stone unturned in Semiramide in terms of human interaction, emotional states; shades of unspoken are throughout the score.  The recitatives that I have sung thru so far are all studied little gems of characterization and theater. I have never participated or studied his opera seria from Rossini’s Neopolitan years and I’m seriously stunned now that I’m examining Semiramide; These have nothing to do with Barbiere, Cenerentola or Italiana in Algeri. They have the same degree of psychological depth of recitatives by Handel, Mozart and Verdi. I will need to conjure a real theatrical accent and would have to have a pretty great and accomplished conductor that can truly accompany and bring these recits to life.

I have sung  the first act duet between Arsace and Semiramide “Serbami ognor” a few times in concerts these past two years, but had never bothered to look at the recitative that precedes this duet. Semiramide (in the book “History thru the Opera Glass” by George Jellinek, the author cites that tradition has it she was the creator of the famous Babylonian Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world) is a character I’m still trying to figure out; what is certain is that she is an anti heroine: complicated, sexy, very feminine, capable of murder and with a thirst for power, but also vulnerable (she allows herself to fall in love) she becomes remorseful and  horrified at the Oedipeal situation she finds herself in when we get to the second act. Can I say she is an evil sex kitten with a heart? Arsace can’t bring himself to kill her when he reveals that he is her son.  There must of been something redeemable about her… I need to keep taking myself thru this libretto a bit more, as well as Rossini’s musicalization to figure it out.

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Amazing cat suit outfit for Semiramide

Today I took myself thru this interesting recitative between Arsace and Semiramide “Mitrane, e che rechi?” right before duet No. 8; I read it first at the piano and saw what seemed to be quirky almost awkward sudden changes in harmony, but within a framework of very sparse notes (“la più bella speranza lusingava il mio cor, ma…). But in reading the translation, Rossini perfectly emulates the misunderstanding as well as  word ques that erroneosly “get lost in translation” between the two characters; she has just received the missive from the oracle saying that all will be righted in the kingdom when Arsace marries (she assumes she is the bride alluded by the oracle); Arsace has come to ask for Azema’s hand in marriage and misunderstands that the Queen is open to agreeing to this marriage. I need to add that both Semiramide and Arsace each have a letter reading scene with underneath orchestral tremolos. Rossini used every device in the book to wring out every ounce of drama, to what I consider thrilling results.

Arsace’s statements and responses need to be sung with a lot of intention, as well as with a touche of naivete. He is truly an honest young man, and very much in earnest, but is  a little clueless and doesn’t have an instinct for subterfuge.   Some of the lines are filled with pride, then suddenly changes to hope, anxiety, and love; he opens his heart to Semiramide in this scene, and she mistakes his intentions…this section needs to come off very natural.  Since its accompanied by the orchestra, it is super rigorous at the same time…so, not really easy to pull off.  This recit section has lots of interesting stuff. It of course preludes one of the better known duets from the opera. I already started scribbling the different attitudes and emotional content of Arsace’s lines in this section. Actually, Rossini in his harmonies tells me what Arsace is feeling; its all there on the page.

Arsace – You summoned me, Queen, and I have hastened to come. How I have yearned for this sweet moment! The finest of hopes enticed my heart. But…

Semiramide – (sweetly) Why do you stop?

Arsace – I am told that, generous as you are, you have at last granted Assyria its wish, that today you will name a successor…

Semiramide – Go on.

Arsace – Assur, the haughty man, thinks he will be king, Azema’s hand will earn him a throne. I would die for you, but I will not serve him.

Semiramide – He shall not have Azema.

Arsace – (joyfully) He won’t?

Semiramide – I am aware of his plans.

Arsace – Ah! Then you know him?

Semiramide – And I will punish him.

Arsace – (reticently) If only you knew this well also Arsace’s heart!

Semiramide – (tenderly) I know that it is faithful and virtuous.

Arsace – But I am only a warrior…

Semiramide – And a warrior, for this empire, is the greatest support… and you… are already… (to herself) Patience, my heart.

(Libretto from the recording conducted by Alberto Zedda, edited by Dynamic CD’s)

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Semiramide 30 day Challenge Day 3 Arsace Assur duet “Bella imago…”

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I have not sung many opera scenes with true basses.  The last I did that comes to memory is the duet between Laura and Alvise in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.  There are more common encounters in baroque opera between these two voice types, as well as also in a couple of Bach cantatas that I have sung.  There are occasions in which the mezzo interacts with the bass in recitative passages, but not often in large presentational duet like the one in Semiramide.

The scene with Arsace and Assur in Act I of Semiramide begins with Arsace’s recit  “…e questo Assur chi’io già detesto”.  It would be a mistake to sum this scene as a big testosterone sable rattling scene. Its divided in four sections sections, and contains  bridge section to mirror the power struggle and conflict (with what I call “emotional close ups”) between the two characters: a young dashing somewhat lovelorn general and a mature general that has been working many years to attain absolute power in ancient Babylon.

American bass Samuel Ramey as Assur in Rossini’s Semiramide

No. 5 Scena and duetto Arsace and Assur

Recitative “…e questo Assur chio gia detesto” “E dunque vero? audace”

Maestoso allegretto giusto: “Bella imago degli Dei”

Andante: “D’un tenero amore”

Allegro vivace: “Io tremar?”

A tempo:  “Va superbo, in quella Reggia”

A cut version could last 7 plus minutes. The uncut performance of the duet from the 80’s with Horne and Ramey  in London clocked in at 11’30, its truly a superb version:

Arsace Assur Duet from Semiramide with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey live performance London

The recit exposes the power struggle and rivalry between the two characters; Arsace ends his statement with scale with possible cadenza and begins the A section (Maestoso allegreto giusto) which then returns at the A tempo at the end of the scena. The Decca London 1965 recording cuts out the  Andante section, which gives a great platform to show almost a soft side for Assur, wonderful expressive singing for Arsace, as well as beautiful cadenza in which both characters sing together, its a great moment. The “io tremar” of the Allegro vivace changes the mood in an aggressive way to bring us back to the A section, which in the uncut version repeats; its in this section that the ornaments are done.  Musically and dramatically the scena is a mini opera, except that the conflict remains to be resolved (with deadly force) later on in the opera.

Its a big chunk of music. In the Kalmus score its 18 pages for this scena…for now I will learn the return of the A section come scritto  (Horne re writes the passages leading to the end of this first exposition). It definitely needs a high note, as indicated by Rossini by the two fermatas. Not too worried getting this A section in my voice, as well as the gorgeous introspective cantilena section.  The grouping of the figures in the last part of the duet are super trumpet like in character. I sung thru it a couple of times today. Tomorrow I will work on the possible ornaments and cadenzas for the duet.  None are indicated in the Ricci cadenza book. After that, I’m moving on to the Act II cavatina of “In si barbara”. I’m skipping over the Act I finale quintet for now.

I will sing thru a big chunk of this role in a small concert on September 6th in NYC so I can try all this out for size. Still working on that August 19th deadline to learn every note and every word! Maybe not every ornament and cadenza, but yes to be able to read the score from top to bottom.

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Italian mezzo soprano Lucia Valentini-Terrani as Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide

My “Semiramide” Summer 2017 Challenge Day 2

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As I take myself thru the paces of learning Arsace, something I have been wanting to do for many years now, I’m getting into a good grove.  Yesterday I reviewed the recits I had learned the day before, as well as making more inroads into my duet with Assur, which is extensive.  I found it helpful to make a road map of what Act 1 looks like for Arsace, and that way lay out clear goals by day of what to learn and review.

ACT I – Role of Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide

No. 4 Recitativo:  “Ecomi al fine in Babilonia”

Aria:  “Ah, quel giorno”

Recitativo:  “Ministri”

No. 5 Scena and duet with Assur

“Bel imago”

Recitativo after Semiramide’s  Bel raggio “Al tuo comando”

No. 8 duet “Serbami ognor”

No. 10 Quintet

I’m hampered by not having a cut sheet, at this point I’m learning all the notes and passages.  Without really knowing the overall architecture of the opera, it already reads to me as a masterpiece. The recitatives are very dramatic and theatrical; Rossini exposes the characters sometimes rapidly changing emotions and thoughts with sudden harmonic changes to allude to different emotional states. In this way it reminds of Handel’s craft in his opera Alcina.

Rossini is always looking for coloratura passages that highlight the characters personality, that follow them as a sort of leimotif; I will find some examples and post.

The recitative “Ecomi al fine” is a four page recitative that is preceded by a mini overture like prelude, that paints the sumptuous and mystery of the Babilonian temple that Arsace has gone for his secret appointment with the temple priests.  A recent Naxos recording omits the recitative. So far Decca London Marilyn Horne disc with Sutherland and the live video on youtube with Lucia Valentini-Terrani are my favorite versions of this accompanied recitativo.  This recit introduces the character and important information about the drama, in my opinion its a big mistake to cut it from the performance.

So on day 2, I have gone thru the recitatives Ecomi al fine; Ministri; recitative preceding duet with Assur E questo Assur, ch’io gia lo detesto; duet with Assur has several sections, I have gone over the first two expositions. Uncut this duet could last 15 minutes at least.  It seems like Rossini builds his scenas like Neoclassical architecture; I want to reach out to my friends at the Rossini Gesellschaft about this comparison!

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The first Assur I ever heard was American bass Samuel Ramey, at MET production in the 90’s

I found on youtube channel Addio bel passato has lovingly put Stigniani’s LP recital on line, and the Arsace aria that I fell in love (together with the recitative excerpted) can be heard.

Ebe Stigniani “Ah quel giorno” from Rossini’s Semiramide, conducted by Antonino Votto

On this current hearing (after 20 years!) the tempo is slow to my modern ear and coloratura slightly labored.  She is very spare on the chest notes.  The album is dated 1953, so she had already clocked in several decades of singing professionally.  There is still a bright and stentorian quality to the upper register, but the the bel canto contraltina ease is not there in this recording. Memory can play tricks, and I have plans to listen to the LP on YouTube.

On to day 3! I will be going over sections of the first act with my pianist, so more later.

Semiramide_Ecomialfine

 

“Semiramide” Summer Challenge 2017

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Today I started my own 30 day challenge to learn all the notes (every melisma and every word!) of the role of Arsace from Rossini’s opera sería masterpiece, “Semiramide”.  I spiral bounded my old Kalmus score which I have owned for many years. The Ricordi critical edition is available, but I’m putting off getting it until all notes and cadenzas are off the page.


Today I learned the first three recitatives as well as the A section of the Arsace/ Assur duet, a confrontation of rivals.

Many years ago I borrowed a long play vinyl of an Italian mezzo active in the 1930’s named Ebe Stignani.  I managed to record it on a tape cassette and started listening. Side A was all light bel canto arias sung with great freshness and youthful tone. On side B Ms. Stignani transformed herself into a spinto/dramatic mezzo with arias from Samson et Delilah arias (sung in Italian of course), the letter aria from Werther as well as the meaty arias from Il Trovatore. On side A the aria “Ah quel giorno” from Rossini’s Semiramide caught my attention. I ordered the whole score (only way for me to excerpt  this aria back then) and learned it pretty much by ear.  I surprised my teacher Richard Torigi a bit when I brought it in, and he even said it wasn’t half bad…and so this aria sung by the character of  Arsace became my first stab ever at music by who was to become my favorite composer, Gioachino Rossini.


The next recording of this aria I started listening to was in one of Marilyn Horne’s Decca London recital albums.  The aria became a sort of vocalise for me before auditions and concert; I never sang it in public until last year actually, at a couple of auditions. The duet with the character of Semiramide  “Serbami ognor” I also started performing it publicly just this past year as part of concert called “Amor en Travesti”, with soprano Gloria Londoño at the Auditorio Nacional de España in Madrid.

One of my operatic idols (flawed, human but divine nonetheless) is Italian mezzo Lucia Valentini-Terrani. I love her live and emotionally connected rendition of the aria on YouTube. The beginning recitative section of Arsace’s first aria is also stunning.

Lucia Valentini Terrani live concert Ecomi al fine…Ah, quel giorno from Rossini’s Semiramide

More on Arsace tomorrow!

“Pascua Florida”: nuevo cíclo para mezzo y piano Miquel Ortega sobre textos de Maria Lejárraga

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“Pascua Florida”: nuevo cíclo para mezzo y piano Miquel Ortega sobre textos de Maria Lejárraga

Pascua Florida Nuevo cíclo de 8 canciones para mezzo soprano y piano, sobre textos de María Lejárraga, compuestas por el compositor Miquel Ortega; estreno absoluto domingo 12 de febrero, 2012 en el National Opera Center de Nueva York; mezzo soprano Anna Tonna y Max Lifchitz, piano.

Notas de programa

María de la O Lejárraga (La Rioja, 1874- Buenos Aires, 1974), conocida también como María Martinez Sierra, escritora y feminista española, es uno de esos personajes particulares que nos deja la historia en ocasiones. Hija de buena familia, logró una educación por encima de lo habitual en una mujer de su época. Esposa del dramaturgo Gregorio Martínez Sierra desde 1900, escribió siempre oculta bajo el nombre de su marido, mientras públicamente defendía los derechos de la mujer, consiguiendo incluso un escaño de diputada en 1933.

El matrimonio Martinez Sierra formó la que probablemente haya sido la unión más singular y enigmática de la historia de las letras españolas, una colaboración que resultó clave para la difusión del modernismo. Fundaron revistas literarias de vanguardia, como Helios y Renacimiento, donde escribieron los mejores escritores su época, y desde su papel como productores teatrales en el Teatro Eslava, impulsaron la más importante renovación teatral del primer tercio del siglo xx en el pais, mientras reunían a su alrededor a los creadores más inovadores e importantes del momento.

Tras su matrimonio, María Lejárraga escribió bajo el nombre de Gregorio Martínez Sierra, aunque ha quedado claro en tiempos modernos que todas las obras de Martínez Sierra fueron escritas por nuestra autora (auténticos best-sellers de la época, como Canción de cuna, llevada al cine en 4 ocasiones, una de ellas en Hollywood), asi como también las primeras traducciones en España de Shakespeare, Shaw, Maeterlinck, Ibsen y Ionesco. Entre los muchos triunfos en el mundo de la lírica de la “marca” Martinez Sierra se pueden citar Las Golondrinas y La llama, con música de Usandizaga (1914), y Margot y Jardin de Oriente, ambas de Joaquín Turina.

Hoy nos enfocamos en dicho trabajo de María Lejárraga en el campo de la lírica, y concretamente en la amistad y colaboración entre ella y el compositor Manuel de Falla. Ellos fueron los creadores de dos obras clave del ballet español del siglo XX, El amor brujo y El sombrero de tres picos, que llevaron a la fama mundial Les ballets Russes y Antonia Mercé, La Argentina.

Manuel de Falla conoció al matrimonio Martínez Sierra en París. A consecuencia de la I Guerra Mundial, Falla regresa a España y empieza a trabajar con el matrimonio, en realidad con Lejárraga únicamente. En 1915 Lejárraga y el compositor gaditano realizaron un viaje a finales de marzo y primeros de abril a Andalucía, en visperas del estreno de la primera versión de El amor brujo en el Teatro Lara, el 15 de abril de ese año. La primera ciudad que visitaron fue Granada, ciudad que el músico gaditano no conocía, despues Ronda y Cádiz. En parte del epistolario que mantuvieron ambos (y que publica Antonio Gallego en un trabajo titulado ‘Pascua Florida: Un proyecto poético de María Lejárraga para Manuel de Falla’ en 1996 ) se refieren muchas veces a una especie de “album de viaje” poético musical. En 1980 Union Musical Española publica Obras desconocidas de Manuel de Falla, con cinco canciones, entre ellas “La canción andaluza: Pan de Ronda”, que formaba parte de ese álbum de viaje.

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Manuel de Falla, Maria Lejarraga y Joaquin Turina

En las cartas se comentaban planes para una ”suite” y un preludio. Pero la correspondencia delata un cambio de tono, desde la complicidad y familiaridad inicial, al enfado meses despues del viaje, por un incidente entre los dos amigos. La única canción que nos llega, a pesar de los ruegos de Lejárraga a Falla para que pusiera en música otras piezas del poemario, es, pues, “Pan de Ronda”. En el Archivo Manuel de Falla se conserva el esbozo de lo que hubiera sido esta suite vocal, escrito a lapiz con letra de Lejárraga sobre el dorso de un programa de concierto en Cádiz:

“Para el maestro Falla, tan amigo de guardar papeles viejos.”
“Pascua Florida” El jardín venenoso El descanso en San Nicolás El corazón que duerme bajo el agua El barrio gitano El salón de Carlos V Tinieblas en el convento El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad El sol de Gibraltar Ciudades orientales Cádiz se echa a navegar

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Esbozo original del texto “Cadiz se ha echado a navegar” por Maria Lejarraga, cortesia del Archivo-Manuel de Falla (Granada)

Al leer por primera vez estos versos salta a la vista la belleza de los poemas que sobreviven de este listado: El jardín venenoso; Tinieblas en el convento; El descanso en San Nicolás; El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad y Cádiz se echa a navegar. Un proyecto que no se completó, y que pudo haber sido otra obra maestra de Falla.

Desde que en 2010 Anna Tonna comenzó este viaje para conocer la faceta creadora y a la vez de musa inspiradora de María Lejárraga, todo lo que ha descubierto le ha llevado, junto con Mari Luz Gonzalez, autora del libro Música y músicos en la vida de María Lejárraga, a idear un proyecto en el cual estos poemas semiocultos de Lejárraga pudieran recobrar vida bajo la pluma de un compositor que diera voz a estos versos, creados durante una época feliz para los dos amigos, ese viaje en el que la escritora desveló al insigne maestro las bellezas de la Alhambra y del barrio del Albaicín…

De esta manera Tonna y González encargaron al compositor Miquel Ortega esta labor tan especial y emotiva, terminar este ciclo de canciones, para que músicos y publico se reencuentren con la obra “Pascua Florida”. Tres poemas más, encontrados en el archivo de los herederos de María Lejárraga, forman parte del presente cíclo: Nana del amor perdido, Yo sabía un cantar moro y Mañana de abril.

Con melodias depuradas y llenas de emoción, el compositor logra dar con el color de sus sonoridades, compaginándolo con rítmos que nos llegan de la tierra, el ambiente y sol andaluces, mostrando, tras 102 años de oscuridad, la intimidad de los protagonistas de este viaje por la Andalucía del 1915.

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“…me dejé imbuir por la musicalidad del propio poema que a veces hasta parecía dictarme la melodía.” Miquel Ortega

Pascua Florida
Música: Miquel Ortega Letra: María Lejárraga

Jardín venenoso Descanso en San Nicolás Tinieblas en el convento Noche estrellada mirando a Gibraltar Nana del amor perdido Yo sabía un cantar moro Cádiz se ha echado a navegar Mañana de abril

Bibliografía
Gallego, Antonio. “Pascua Florida: Un proyecto poético de María Lejárraga para Manuel de Falla.” Revista Atlántica Poesía, 11 (1996): 33-55.

Luz, González Peña María. Música y músicos en la vida de María Lejárraga. Logroño: Instituto de Estudios Riojanos, 2009.

Webber, Chr. “María and Gregorio Martínez Sierra.” = Zarzuela.net. N.p.,n.d.Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Sierra, María Martínez, y Alda Blanco. Gregorio y yo: medio siglo de colaboración. Valencia: Pre-Textos, 2000.

Miquel Ortega (Barcelona,1963) es pianista, director de orquesta y compositor. Formado en el Conservatorio del Liceo, amplió sus estudios con Manuel Oltra y Antoni Ros Marbà. Como director ha dedicado una atención especial al mundo de la ópera y la zarzuela.

Ha estrenado títulos como La celestina, de Joaquim Nin-Culmell (2008), Dalí, de Xavier Benguerel (2011), y ha dirigido a los teatros del Liceo, la Zarzuela, Teatro Real de Madrid, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Capitole de Toulouse y Covent Garden, entre otros.

Es autor de la ópera La casa de Bernarda Alba (2007), el ballet Bestiario (2002-09) y el cuento musical El niño y la creación del mundo, estrenado en el Teatro Real de Madrid en enero del 2012. La casa de Bernarda Alba se estrenó en Brasov (Rumanía) en 2007 y posteriormente, en 2009, la obra tuvo su estreno en España en los Festivales Internacionales de Santander y Perelada.

Ortega es hoy en día uno de los directores españoles de su generación más apreciados en el campo operístico. Ha dirigido, entre otros, en el Gran Teatre del Liceu y el Palau de la Música de Barcelona, en el Teatro Real, Teatro de la Zarzuela y Auditorio Nacional de Música de Madrid, en el Kennedy Center de Washington, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, Lindbury Studium de la Royal Opera House, Covent Garden de Londres, King’s Theater de Edimburgo, etc.

Su actividad como compositor también tiene a la voz como elemento principal, y muchos cantantes de la actualidad tienen en repertorio algunas de sus canciones; el tenor argentino Luis Lima, el barítono español Carlos Álvarez (que ha grabado bajo la dirección del propio autor cuatro de sus canciones) y las sopranos españolas Montserrat Caballé y Ainhoa Arteta, entre otros. Su producción comprende además, obras de cámara, sinfónicas y óperas.

Su estilo, de carácter mediterráneo, se distingue por su facilidad para la melodía y el uso de la tonalidad y la modalidad, preferentemente, con incursiones politonales y atonales esporádicas.

KAIDAN, promoción y comunicación Blanca Gutiérrez Cardona Tfo: 625 89 93 71 blancagutierrezcardona@gmail.com