“Loa al fandanguillo”, creation of Conchita Supervia, with composer Modesto Romero

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“Loa al fandanguillo”, creation of Conchita Supervia, with composer Modesto Romero

As a young singer in New York City, I received the opportunity to act in a small concert at the Thalia Theater in the borough of Queens, in New York City. The concert consisted of pieces from Spain’s operetta genre, called “zarzuela“. Not knowing anything about zarzuela, I began researching and more than anything, listening to singers from Spain that sang zarzuela. I found discs by Teresa Berganza (Zarzuela castiza released by Ensayo label being one of my all time favorites), Placido Domingo, Alfredo Krauss and Pilar Lorengar.  But the album that I listened to most was the Victoria de los Angeles EMI release disc of zarzuela arias, containing all the principle pieces for female voice in the zarzuela genre, introduced to me by the pianist Pablo Zinger.

It was around this time that I became fascinated with the great Catalan mezzo soprano, Conchita Supervia.  Thank goodness for the compact disc label “Pearl” with all her Odeon cylinder releases! Conchita had done a prodigious amount of recordings, including versions of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier in Italian, Samson and Delilah, all the major scenes from Bizet’s Carmen.  She is credited as one of the first interpreters of the 20th century Rossini revival, in that she sang the role of Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia in the original mezzo soprano key.

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Conchita Supervia, an opera diva of the Art Deco era 

Conchita was an active recitalist, and her archive of recordings documents the public’s taste (as well as her own) in programming in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  There were many “pop” pieces that peppered her recordings recitals, detailing for me her love of pleasing her public.  Curiously enough there are “song versions” of Granados’ Danza No. 5 and an Albéniz piano solo, which although dated, I think have a place and can please listeners nowadays.  She also exposed songs in English in her charming accent, “Bring to me your coloured toys” by American composers John Carpenter.

I began  singing zarzuela concerts in NYC with Los amigos de la Zarzuela at NYC Cami Hall in the 90’s, and started acquiring  Conchita’s repertoire; the UME anthologies by voice type of zarzuela “romances” was still years away from editing. I relied on Classical Vocal reprints to acquire “Fué mi mare la gitana” from La chavala by Moreno Torroba, “Lagarteranas” from El Huesped del Sevillano, “Canción de la gitana” from El mal de amores.  All pretty obscure stuff (I don’t know any singers in Spain that program these pieces!), and I really didn’t know any better. Conchita sang it, and that was good enough for me.  I also got help finding these scores from Music Sales Ltd., they printed on demand old scores from the Union Musical Española catalog.

I found a fascinating song that she recorded called “Loa al fandanguillo”. It wasn’t from a zarzuela that I could tell. Very andalusian, Conchita interpreted the song with much “desgarro”, and  it was loads of fun to listen to; I replayed it many times. I started corresponding with María Luz Gonzalez at Archivo la SGAE in Madrid, and she popped a copy for me via regular post.

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CD Album where you can listen to “De la serrania: Loa al fandanguillo”

Dated 1933, it said:

De la serranía; Loa al fandanguillo: canción para contralto; versos de Manuel Machado; música de Modesto Romero. It also said:  “Creación de Conchita Supervía”. This leads me to believe that the song was a co creation between Supervia, M. Machado and Modesto Romero.  Too bad we couldn’t be a fly on the wall during those sessions, in which she coaxed out of those two, this fun vocal vehicle for her gifts and vocalism!

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The LP says “Fandanguillo de concierto”, a title that does not appear on the printed score I have. 

The recording has a section with castanets, but it first starts with a “llamada”, a calling to the artist (or flamenco dancer”) to  come to the stage, followed by a syncopated 3/4 section.  There are dramatic but fun chromatic transitions that lead into the “fandanguillo” section. Fandango is the flamenco “palo” of Huelva, a province in the south of Spain.  The text is about “love gone wrong”.  There are sections of stylized flamenco vocalises that use the whole range of the voice. The recording is with orchestra, with Modesto Romero at the podium. There is more information about this piece in this blog:

http://cancionypoema.blogspot.com/2014/10/manuel-machado-y-lamusica.html

The entire piece is a stylized “lyric” version of a “cante jondo” song. There was great interest in Spanish folklore, flamenco and “cante jondo” from the composers, authors and painters at the turn of the 20th century, this piece I feel is a product of this aesthetic and interest.  I was told that this song enjoyed a vogue on Spanish radio by a zarzuela fan by the name of Mrs. Fuertes in NYC, a charming lady that later became my friend, who told me she had heard the song on the radio as a child.  Again, the piece might feel dated to a Spaniard, or at the very least nostalgic. I don’t know of other singers that have taken up this piece in modern days.  I actually see it as good vehicle for collaboration with a classical Spanish dancer.

I have performed “Loa al fandanguillo” three times in all these years; I bring it out once more at the 33rd annual gala of Los Amigos de la Zarzuela at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall this coming Sunday November 11, 2018 at 2 PM, with pianist Maxim Anikushin.

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Private screening of “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados” at The Juilliard School in NYC

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Private screening of “El amor y la muerte:  Historia de Enrique Granados” at The Juilliard School in NYC

I received an invitation from Spanish pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo to attend a private screening of a new film documentary about the composer Enrique “Enric” Granados (1867-1916) at the Juilliard School in New York City. The film is entitled “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados “ and is directed by Arantxa Aguirre. The screening took place on October 18, 2018, following a master class that Torres-Pardo imparted to several Juilliard piano students. The audience included several well known personalities from Spain’s classical music world such as former director of the Auditorio Nacional de España, Antonio Moral, conductor Rafael Lamas and composer Ricardo Llorca.

Poster for the film “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados”.

Being a great admirer of the work of Spanish film director Arantxa Aguirre since viewing her outstanding documentary, “Dancing Beethoven”, I was excited to be present at the preview screening of “El amor y la muerte” (translated as “Love and Death”). The title in Spanish really alludes to “Love” and “Death” as entities rather than abstract ideas (utilizing the male pronoun for “el” amor/love and the female pronoun for “la” muerte/death); the allusion for the title of the documentary is both the solo piano composition by Granados of the same title, as well as what is most certainly the inspiration for this composition, an engraving bearing the same title by the 18th century Spanish painter Francisco Goya y Lucientes, with whom Granados was obsessed with.

I would like to add that the documentary’s theme is close to my own heart in many ways: in 2015 and 2016 I had the privilege to work as a performer on two multi disciplinary concerts about Enrique Granados’ time in New York City in 1916, for the Hispanic Society Museum & Library (NYC) and the Teatro “El Escorial” (Spain) with pianist Borja Mariño.

Rosa Torres-Pardo was joint producer in this special film project, in which she was featured among other artists such as mezzo Nancy Fabiola Herrera, pianist Luis del Valle, violinist Ana Valderrama, pianist Joaquín Soriano in excerpted performances and conversations. On the screen we heard musicologists Walter Aaron Clarke and Miriam Perandones speak of their insights about the life of Granados. An interesting revisioning of Granados’ songs interpreted by notable flamenco artists filmed at the Teatro Real and the Prado Museum where other highlights of the film.

Pianist Evegny Kissin and baritone Carlos Alvárez also make an appearance in the film with short performances.

Pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo converses with pianist Joaquín Soriano in the film “El amor y la muerte”.

I heard Rosa Torres-Pardo in a concert the previous week, which took place at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, in a program of Debussy and Albéniz.  Presented jointly by the New York Opera Society and the Queen Sofía Institute, the concert took place on October 10 in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Day.  She essayed sensitive renditions of Albéniz’s Iberia as well as the Suite Bergamasque by Debussy.  Torre Pardo’s commitment to works by Enrique Granados is well documented throughout her career, notably so with her recent recording issued by Deutsche Grammaphon in 2016.

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Working with no film material at hand to illustrate the life of Granados, the documentary utilized historical photographs, and both original paintings created for this film, as well as period paintings (notably by Ramón Casas) which where in some instances animated, bringing to life early 20th century Madrid, Barcelona and New York City respectively.

A movie still of “Amor y la muerte” of a photograph of Enrique Granados.

Actors voices with quotes by musicologist Felipe Pedrell, painter and writer Santiago Rusiñol, cellist Pau Casals, novelist Gabriel Miró and poet Apelles Mestres, as well as text taken from letters by Granados to his wife were used extensively to bring the narration to life.

Movie still of “Amor y la muerte” of an illustration of Enrique Granados and Pau Casals.

The film highlighted the events of Granados’ stay in New York City, with its triumphs of numerous concerts, and the premiere of his opera “Goyescas”. It remains to this day the only opera presented at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City by a Spanish composer.

Pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo and mezzo Nancy Fabiola Herrera performing Granados’ “Maja dolorosa” in the film “El amor y la muerte”.

The film move us inexorably to the “finale” of what we know as the tragic fate of this figure, and to what seems to be a senseless although predestined death intuited by both Granados and his wife. Using the leitmotif of the aforementioned solo piano piece by the composer, I felt as a viewer a profound sense of loss and sadness, as I witnessed on the screen visions of a vast sea, with which the film both begins and ends.

A movie still of Enrique Granados and his wife Amparo in “El Amor y la muerte”.

The film is a moving tribute to one of Spain’s greatest musical geniuses and will be a memorable treasure for lovers of Spanish music and for fans of the music of Enrique Granados.

Pianist Rosa Torres Pardo and flamenco artist Arcángel performing a Granados song at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid (Spain), with Goya paintings in the background, from the film “El amor y la muerte”.

A recreation of Antonia Mercé’s premiere of “Danza de los ojos verdes” in 1916 was performed in the documentary by Spanish dance artist Patrícia Guerrero in the film “El amor y la muerte”.

The film runs 79 minutes and was officially premiered on October 23, 2018 at the “Seminci of Valladolid” (Spain).  I hope to announce soon the official viewing of this insightful and moving documentary here in the U.S.
(All photos were taken from my iPhone 7)

Spain and the Rossini “Stabat mater”

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Spain and the Rossini “Stabat mater”

With the Rossini celebration of the 150 years since the death of composer Gioachino Rossini being celebrated this year, works by the “Swan of Pesaro” are being programmed world wide.  This year I’m involved in several projects having to do with Rossini, namely “Verdi, Bianco, Rossini!” with pianoforte/romantic guitar ensemble Duo Savigni in Italy as well as a production of his La cambiale di matrimonio for Little Opera Zamora in Spain.  Tomorrow I take part in his Stabat mater in the city of Chicago, as part of the 2018 Chicago Oratorio Award – The American Prize this coming Wednesday May 16th. Always a privilege to sing this great work for chorus orchestra and soloists, I take the occasion today to highlight how the Stabat mater is related to Spain, and the reason it forms part of the commercial disc España alla Rossini, which I recorded and released in 2015 with pianist Emilio González Sanz on Emilio’s circa 1890 Broadwood piano for iTinerant Classics:

From the program notes in the disc España alla Rossini, by Spanish musicologist José Luis Téllez, which I translate into English:

“In his ‘charm offensive’ meant to assert his financial claims, Rossini did not forget the Queen: “Specially for Her Majesty Maria Cristina di Borbone, Catholic Queen of Spain, in Madrid on 20 February, 1831” he composed La passeggiata, which was published on 11 April, 1831 in the Spanish magazine «Cartas Españolas», later also by Ricordi. In Italian poetics the subtitle “Anacreontica” indicates a piece of poetry consisting of heptasyllabic or octosyllabic lines, dedicated to love, wine or joie de vivre. Rossini’s piece is not full of unbridled singing though but rather a contemplative ode to the beauty of nature. “La passeggiata – Anacreontica” must not be mistaken for “La passeggiata – Quartettino” from the “Album italiano” of his “Péchés de vieillesse”.

However, the most important aspect of his trip to Spain is the “by-product” of the Stabat mater; which he had promised Manuel Fernández Varela, prelate and commissar of the Cruzada on the day before his departure (23 February, 1831). First Rossini went back on his word and he did not set himself to work before March 1832 after the clergyman had urged him. To finish this composition destined for Good Friday in time he felt compelled to appeal to his friend Giovanni Tadolini for help. Rossini entrusted him with nearly all the solo pieces and the closing fugue (7 numbers), while he took care of the other 6 numbers himself: all ensemble pieces and just one solo aria, namely the cavatina (No. 10) “Fac ut portem” for contralto, the singing voice he had always considered most important. Due to the quarantine because of cholera this thirteen-piece composition reached Madrid only after Good Friday 1832 and therefore was not premiered until the Good Friday of the following year, on 5 April, 1833 in the church of San Felipe El Real. When the Varela manuscript got to Paris in 1841 Rossini obstructed publication and substituted the seven pieces by Tadolini with four of his own; as a result “Fac ut portem” is number 8 in the version of the Stabat mater as we know it today”.

Tile image:  First edition of the Rossini Stabat mater; engraving of the church where the first version of the work was premiered San Felipe El Real in Madrid; portrait of Manuel Fernández Varela, Spanish cleric who commissioned the Stabat mater; portrait of mezzo Emma Albertozzi, first Italian mezzo interpreter  of the Rossini Stabat mater.

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Following in the foot steps of a zarzuela star: Lucrecia Arana

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Liricas del Mundo at the first concert “Homenaje a Lucrecia Arana” at the International Institute in Madrid, when we first sang the Trova and duo from “El diablo en el molino”

 

I was asked to contribute an article to zarzuela.net, a web page lead by the leading Anglo exponent of the zarzuela genre, Christopher Webber.  Here is my story of how in 2017, via a series of concerts in Madrid and Logroño in La Rioja (Spain) with my duet ensemble Líricas del Mundo,  we explored and sang the repertoire a 19th century zarzuela sensation and muse to both composers and libretist of the golden age of zarzuela, tiple-contralto Lucrecia Arana.

Link to article in http://www.zarzuela.net

Adventures with Arana

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Lucrecia Arana played numerous trouser roles in the zarzuela, many written especially for her.

 

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The zarzuela “La viejecita” by Fernando Caballero was written for and premiered by Lucrecia Arana

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.

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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