“It is better to do something less than perfect every now and then rather than something boring. Rossini’s genius is very modern, yet difficult to penetrate because it is so marked by duality and contradiction. He is both easy and difficult; introverted and cerebral in one sense, extroverted manic, mad in another; indeed he is all those things, often at the same time…like a clown, he is a comic with a deep melancholy and ironic streak”.
When I first started my search of songs by G. Rossini that where themed either by text, rhythms or dedications to Spain, I found in my Belwin Mills Edition a song called “La veuve andalouse, chanson espagnole”. Although recorded recently by the Italian mezzo and Rossini virtuoso Ana Bonitanibus in the French, my friend the Mexican mezzo Carla López Speziale had recorded the version in Castilian of this piece back in 2004 in her album Soirée Musicale: Canciones de Rossini with pianist Sergio Vázquez (JBCC 098). In 2012, this song was firmly in my program Rossini and Spain, which I did in Malta in 2012.
Lacking the edition with the Spanish text, at first I took the words directly from the libretto of Carla’s album Soirée Musicale and superimposed it on my French edition. While I was in Madrid in June of 2012 and before going to Malta for the concert, I went to the Royal Conservatory of Madrid were my colleague and pianist Emilio González Sanz teaches. In the conservatory they had an antique edition of La veuve andalouse, which I was unable to photocopy because of its fragile condition. This antique edition had this songs as No. 2 of a set of two, entitled Deux Nouvelles compositions. Although the French version, with text by Emilien Paccini, has the title as La veuve andalouse, the Spanish title is slightly different, La viuda de náufrago or “Widow of the drowned man”.
This edition is among the many things the library at the Royal Conservatory in Madrid has pertaining to Rossini, including original letters in his own hand writing and two small original compositions. One of the hidden anecdotes of history is that Rossini was asked by Mstro. Piermarini, one of many Italian musical personalities in Spain that worked for various noble families as well as in the Royal Palace (he was one of the voice teachers to the royal house in Spain), via the Spanish Queen Maria Cristina, to inaugurate the newly formed Royal Conservatory of Madrid.
I was advised by Carla to obtain a copy of an antique edition from Glendower Jones at Classical Vocal Reprints, but it was not until I got in touch with Mr. Reto Müller, the director of the Rossini Gessellschaft in Switzerland that I obtained a modern performing edition of the song with the text in Castilian. The texts in Spanish of both songs of Deux Nouvelles Compositions are by the romantic era Spanish playwright Ventura de la Vega, one of the tutors to the Queen as well as one of the directors of the Spanish national theater of the time, “El Teatro Español”
Here is the text both in Spanish and in my own English translation:
¿Qué has hecho, dime, horrible mar,
de aquella prenda de mi amor?
¿Cómo pudiste arrebatar
mi bien amado en tu furor?
Su frágil barquilla
partió de esta orilla…
¡Ah! Dónde va su quilla?
¡Nunca ya volverá!
Gran Dios, de mi amargura
calma el cruel rigor;
de tanta desventura
cesa el fatal rigor;
Mas! O Dios. Tú que sabes,
¿pero no me engañé?
!Ah! tu, mar funesta,
¿será locura dudar?
me ha de matar.
La feliz barquilla,
nunca más tu quilla
¡ah, del amada orilla
la arena hallará!
¡Ah! niño desdichado!
Ah, huérfano has quedado,
fruto del amor y el dolor.
Ah, del paterno beso,
ah, dulce embeleso,
tu infantil mejilla ya no gozará.
¡Ah, todo acabó, todo murió!
¿Qué has hecho…
The Andalusian Widow (Spanish Song) English Translation
What have you done, tell me, horrible sea,
with that sweet love of mine?
How could you have snatched away
my beloved with all your furor?
His fragile little boat
set sail from this shore;
where now goes its keel?
Never more will it return!
Great God, relieve the harshness
of this cruel bitterness of mine;
cease the fatal severity
of so much misfortune.
But, O God, you that know,
am I wrong in what I think?
Ah, fatal sea that you are.
Is it madness to doubt
this feeling of despair
that will be the end of me?
That happy little boat,
ah, never more will your keel
touch upon the sand
of this beloved shore!
Ah, my unfortunate child,
fruit of love and pain,
an orphan you have become.
Ah, never more, my little delight,
will your baby cheek enjoy
that sweet paternal kiss,
Ah, all is done…all is dead!
Unhappy little boat…
What have you done, tell me, horrible sea…
Apparently the Italian diva (but born in Madrid!) Adelina Patti must of sang this as a “party piece”, as a third edition I acquired by Oliver Ditson has printed on the fronstpiece “as sung by Adelina Patti”. The song dedication reads as follows: “A mi amigo y colega F. F. de Valldemosa, distinguido compositor, profesor del Real Conservatorio de Madrid y colega de la Academia Francesa”. An engraving and brief description of this figure is in the internet; he was a composer and voice teacher from the island of Mallorca; in the Petrucci Library there is a bolero for two tenors and piano of his that can be downloaded. La viuda del náufrago is filled with Spanish connections and history that links Rossini to Spain…
The song is virtuosic and difficult; it is set up as dramatic “scena” for a mezzo with great high notes and coloratura. The piano part has difficult rapid scale and triad dissonant passages that use almost the whole range of the piano, with dissonances and quick changing character that mirror the grieving widow. Over 6 minutes long, its a test of endurance and range for both the pianist and singer. Its also a show stopper and great piece. Joining my friend Carla’s recording, Ms. Bonitanibus as well as Marilyn Horne (RCA) and Vivica Geneux (EPCASO) recordings of the text by Ventura de la Vega of “A Granada”, my version with pianist Emilio González Sanz is featured in my upcoming disc España alla Rossini which is slated to come out with iTinerant Classics this coming April of 2015.
The sound disc España alla Rossini began as a cool recital idea that I had: in 2012 I had the enormous fortune of being invited to sing at the presidential palace of the Republic of Malta, a gracious invitation extended to me by the then president of this country (and the country of my grand parents) His Excellency George Abela and his wife Mrs. Margaret Abela. It was a dream come true to visit Malta, and more so to do it under such an auspicious occasion…I wanted very much to do a special program, one with personal meaning that would speak to me and in turn create a special atmosphere at the event. I began a small investigation of the repertoire for this concert, which united two of my loves: the music of Gioacchino Rossini and the musical culture of Spain.
My pianist in Spain, Jorge Robaina was not available. I then reached out to a wonderful pianist, a professor of chamber music at the Royal Music Conservatory in Madrid by the name of Emilio González Sanz. On Facebook and email we put together a program, which we rehearsed for a weeks time in Madrid before flying out to Valletta, the capital of Malta. We did the program as trial at the Museo del Romanticismo de Madrid before leaving, under the title “Rossini and Spain” with brief notes:
Maltese-American mezzo soprano ANNA TONNA and Spanish pianist EMILIO SANZ GONZÁLEZ debut their new musical venture: a program of songs and piano solos that narrate Rossini’s fascination with the country of Spain. Rossini’s personal relationships with opera’s most prominent family of the 19th century, The Garcías (Manuel García, Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot-García), Rossini’s marriage to the Spanish diva Isabella Colbran, as well as his close friendships with the notable Spanish personalities such as the Dukes of Alba planted the seeds for his love of the rhythms and songs of Spain, with his usage of the Tirana, bolero and the Seguidilla in his numerous musical compositions.
Rossini was not unique in his love of all things Spanish: the Grand Tour helped to popularize Spain and increase her mystique among travelers and tourists of the early 19th century. Numerous books such as George Burrough’s The Bible in Spain and Gustav Dore’s engravings, together with the numerous Spanish musicians and dancers such as the Garcias that were performing in Europe’s capitals helped to popularize late 18th century Spanish dance and song known as Escuela Bolera.
Enter Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
“La regata veneziana”, Nocturne for solo piano Transcription by Franz Liszt
“Facut portem” from the Stabat mater
Isabella Colbran, Rossini’s Spanish muse
“Giusto ciel!” from the opera Maometto II
“Assisa a piè d’un salice” from the opera Otello
“Una voce poco fa” from the opera Il barbiere di Siviglia
Visions of Spain
Granada, Opus 47, No. 1 Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
“À Grenade” from the album Melodies françaises
Among the public was the ambassador of Spain, the newly appointed American Ambassador as well as numerous persons from the Maltese cultural life. I also had the pleasure of meeting for the first time family members that I continue to this day to be in touch with, as well as having the immense honor of the president hosting a family dinner at the presidential palace in mine and Emilio’s honor.
The concert was pronounced a success by several reviewers and most importantly by the listeners.
After the concert, we received flowers, a book and small commemorative plaque that I keep to this day on my piano. How surprised my humble grandparents would be if they had only known that so many years later this all would come to pass…
I wanted to further honor Malta in this recital, and as an encore Emilio and I performed a cantilena aria by the Maltese early 19th century composer Nicoló Isouard from his opera Paul et Virginie.
I knew I wanted to make sound disc one day of this project. Upon meeting Ruben L. Someso, the managing director of The Recording Consort, I embarked on the adventure of a new and more in depth investigation of a sound disc that I would eventually call España alla Rossini…
To contribute to the making of España alla Rossini, please check out my video and platform on Hatchfund: