Monthly Archives: December 2015

“Rossini’s inherent Spanishness” disc review of España alla Rossini by Fernando Fraga

“Rossini’s inherent Spanishness” disc review of España alla Rossini by Fernando Fraga

“One can say that Gioachino Rossini enjoyed a special relationship with our country, if one keeps in mind that the two basic ties that can bind one to this relationship are:  the bed and the pocket. Isabel Colbrán, his first wife was from Madrid; his banker, (Alejandro) Aguado was Sevillian by birth although he later became a French national.  There are other less prosaic details that allows us to  unite the Swan of Pessaro to our country.  Thanks to a Spanish prelate from Madrid Manuel Fernández Varela, we owe the sublime composition of his Stabat Mater.


Rossini Stabat Mater and Spain: Frontspiece of an early edition of the Stabat Mater; Convento of San Felipe del Real in Madrid. Archdeacon Manuel Varela and mezzo Emma Albertazzi, interpreter of the first complete performed version of the Stabat Mater in Paris.

His most popular works, those which never lost its contact with the public such as the Barber of Seville as everyone knows, and the setting of his astonishing Matilde di Shabran, take place in a Spanish locale.  The first Almaviva of Barbiere was the Sevillian born Manuel García, father of Malibran and Viardot, interpreters of the first order (especially the former) of several of Rossini’s titles. Soprano Lorenza Correa, who was from Malaga and was the first Zenobia in Aureliano in Palmira in 1813 at La Scala in Milan, as well as essaying the role of Rosina in the first Madrid production of the Barber of Seville, which took place in the Spanish capital.

During his childhood tournées to the royal courts of Europe, Mozart never crossed the Pyrenees. Neither Bellini or Donizetti stepped on Spanish soil, although the second one could have planned it for himself, if we keep in mind that 10 of his opera works take place throughout the geography of the land (one in a former Spanish colony: Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

Three decades before Verdi’s visit, Rossini arrived in Madrid on February of 1831, were he was received with delirium by its residents, and was festooned regally by Ferdinand VII and his Neapolitan wife Maria Cristina. Even the King’s brother, the infante Don Francisco, was capable of singing for him Azur’s aria from Semiramide (his favorite piece) as an unexpected and surprising homage.  We have no record of the reaction of the composer.

Within the collection of songs composed by Rossini figure many with rhythm, themes, texts or dedications to persons that have to do with Spain. On that basis, the happy idea of dedicating a disc to these theme came into being, which logically carries the title of España alla Rossini, the authors of which are the North American mezzo soprano, who has ties to Spain for artistic reasons (perhaps her most salient one) Anna Tonna and the pianist Emilio González Sanz.


Mezzo soprano Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz

It is a juicy program. It begins with a song the text of Émilien Pacini, the son of Rossini’s French music editor, A Granada, translated later on into Spanish by non other than Ventura de la Vega, the poet and playwright of the book for the zarzuela Jugar por fuego by Barbieri.  Rossini dedicated this song to Isabel II of Spain.  The disc concludes with “O giorno sereno” sung by four voices and piano, giving the opportunity for the duo of voice and piano to incorporate Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina and Aurelio Viribay to the disc with a world premiere recording of this piece.  It is a perfect ending to this new sound register, as Rossini composed it in honor of the birth of one of the sons of his banker Aguado; the child is simply baptized with the names Artur0, Olimpo, Jorge.

The rest of the program belong to diverse compositional eras of the son of Pesaro; some are well known such as “La promessa” with verses by Metastasio, or “L’invito” with verses by Count of Pepoli, the librettist of Bellini’s I puritani; others less frequently heard such as “La vuida del náufrago”, as well as the song with text attributed to the Baron of Santo Magno, “Amori Scendete”, a composition realized during his Spanish voyage in 1831, taking up a composition that he had started ten years before in Naples, and which autograph belongs to the House of the Dukes of Alba.

It is remembered in the disc, as a sort of thanks and nod the role that the archdeacon Varela played in the creation of that Stabat Mater, of which one should never cease to sing praises to, the inclusion of the mezzo soprano’s Fac ut portem; it does not sound bad at all in proximity with the  Zorzico, the Spanish tirana and boleros with text by Metastasio in a quartet grouping that begins with Mi lagnerò tacendo; the character of Loadice sings this same melody in act II of Siroe Rey di Persia; these are verses that Rossini idolized, if we are to judge upon the fact that he musicalized them in numerous occasions and different opportunities;  rumor had it that the list extended to the hundreds, another exaggeration among the many anecdotes told about about the popular but enigmatic author.

Two items from the disc that should be especially noted:   the tirana for two voices Les amants de Séville from the third volume of Sins From My Old Age, due to the limpid female voice summing up to the seductive timbre and delicious sound of the Madrilian tenor Miguel Borrallo.


The other item is the vibrant Spanish song (Canzonetta spagnuola); the possibility exists that the text was excerpted by Colbran herself, perhaps in a moment of drunken inspiration, “En medio a mis colores”.  A delicious melody that originates in Ermione and later in a melody that Rossini was able to incorporate (in his opera) Semiramide when the queen of Babylonia makes her majestic entrance on the stage; the adaptation of this same melody is unique to his gifts, and could only be associated with a genius such as his.  This song was unveiled to us by the great Marilyn Horne, and later taken up with special charm by Cecilia Bartoli. The present execution,  includes with assured taste the rich accompaniment of castanets played by  Cristina Gómez Tornamira the castanet artist and the pianist effect a crescendo of great originality and hair raising abandon.  And it is here that we find the central point of what characterizes this musical duo: Anna Tonna with her clear mezzo soprano of uniform registers, musical and committed, of fresh and youthful timbre and of immediate simpatico to the listener; Emilio González Sanz, a pianist full of rhythm (in this case an item of the utmost importance) with rich and piercing sonority, that comes together and accompanies as an infallible compliment to the stylistic play of his partner.  One can hear that both know how to give each other’s part its sense, and we can perceive the love and enjoyment of interpreting this music, just as surely as the author had when he composed it.

For the next 150th anniversary of the death of Rossini (in 2018), this disc could be considered, due to its excellent thesis and its supreme achievement and cared for presentation, as a good starting point for the expected and not to be done without celebrations.

Fernando Fraga is a noted Rossini scholar and author of Rossini (1998) Verdi (2000) as well as a frequent collaborator and critic for Radio Nacional de Espana and the Spanish classical music magazine Scherzo.

The review as it appeared in the Spanish online classical music magaine El Arte de la Fuga can read following the link below:

“La españolidad de Rossini” (published on October 6 of 2015) by Fernando Fraga


“Rossini inspires himself in Spain” a disc review of España alla Rossini in Spanish newspaper ABC

“Rossini inspires himself in Spain” a disc review of España alla Rossini in Spanish newspaper ABC

“The relationship that existed between Rossini and our country is generally well known.  As José Luis Téllez very well brings to our attention in his introductory lines, his first wife was a Spaniard, the great singer Isabella Colbran.  Much further than limiting himself to the Barber of Seville, Spanish themes keep appearing in his songs, without forgetting his Stabat Mater, which was premiered in Madrid.  It was an excellent idea to assemble all the songs related to Spain. The result is an attractive journey thru this repertoire that was being interpreted in the Parisian salons of the 1880’s.  A “minor” musical genre, although this does not take away its charm, is served in an adequate and solvent manner.

Á. Marías

ABC, December 5, 2015


España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

“One can be thankful when discographic labels put forth original projects in order to bring to light lesser known repertoire; this is what iTinerant Records accomplishes with a set of songs for voice and piano by the great Rossini, whose commonly known  relationship and source of inspiration is music of Spanish roots; this brings into light the special relation this Italian musician had with our country, and how it is reflected in his music.  Not only was Rossini married with the famous Madrilian soprano Isabel Colbrán, he also had numerous person and professional friendships with Spaniards of different stations of society.


The selection of songs from diverse compositional periods is interesting, and even though the majority of the texts are not in castilian, the Spanish influence in all of them is clear, including the characteristic rythms like the “seguidilla”, the “Jota” or the “tirana”.  As to the performers, the North American mezzo soprano Anna Tonna posseses a beautiful voice with a stupendous timbre, with musicality and coloratura more than adequate for this rossinian repertoire of salon.  Her special relationship to our country leaves an imprint of her capacity to give this music the necessary Spanish quality it needs. She is perhaps somewhat at her limits in the higher registers, but she is able to bring a great level to the pages of the score that are most genuinely “Rossinian”, as in the songs “Amori scendete” or “La passeggiatta”, as well as the more folkloric in character, such as the well known “canzonetta spagnuola” which has a crescendo that is executed with special inspiration.


 Emilio González Sanz accompanies with a great sense of rhythm in a historic piano from the piano makers  John Broadwood & Sons, an instrument very much appreciated by Rossini, and which brings us closer to the original sonority of this music.  The interventions of the tenor Miguel Borrallo and the Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina are also correct and appropriate”.


David C. Porto

Melónamo Digital




“España alla Rossini” Disc Presentation in Madrid

“España alla Rossini” Disc Presentation in Madrid

La Quinta de Mahler in the center of Madrid (Spain) is a rare place; a hybrid of a CD shop, books shop, living room and meeting place for passionate lovers of classical music.  “La Quinta” as it is affectionately called, is the place to come to get acquainted with the newest sound recordings of both major and independent label projects taking place in Spain and Europe.  During the day its a quiet place to browse at your leisure and engage in interesting conversations with fans of classical music,  and talk about the latest opera production at the Teatro Real Opera House, which is a scant two blocks away.  In the evening there are lectures and short term classes led by Spanish musicologists and classical music commentators from Radio Nacional de España and the major newspapers and magazines of Spain.  We certainly don’t have a place like it here in New York City, as we have lost most of our classical record stores (save Academy Records in Chelsea) and sheet music shops.


Disc display at La Quinta de Mahler in Madrid on September 30, 2015

Among the many activities “La Quinta” hosts are CD presentations, of which España alla Rossini participated in on September 30, 2015. In addition to Emilio González Sanz and myself,  we had the great fortune of having our friend José Luis Téllez relate to our audience that evening the story of Rossini and Spain.  Mr. Téllez is a musicologist and commentator, and is on staff at the Teatro Real; in an engaging manner, he told the audience about the anecdotes and facts of Rossini and Spain and how the repertoire of the sound disc is related to our story.


Musicologist Jose Luis Tellez, mezzo soprano Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz at La Quinta de Mahler in Madrid

In the audience we had family and friends that had traveled from ouside of Madrid and as far away as New York City. That evening we had many of our supporters and advisers: from our disc label iTinerant Records, to Fundación Don de Juan de Borbón, Fundación Fernando de Castro; many of the persons that contributed to the crowd funding that made the disc possible; among our many friends was the composer Miguel Bustamante who wrote this chronicle (in Spanish) of the event:

España alla Rossini reventó La Quinta

From the disc we first played “A Granada” relating the story of how this song by Rossini is in castillian, with text by playwright Ventura de la Vega, followed by the song “Nizza” so the audience could hear the accompaniment with castanets of Cristina Gómez Tornamira in the disc.  As for the live performance, we began with the song “Beltà Crudele” which was dedicated to the Duchess of Alba and Berwick.


Collage with painting of Isabel II of Spain, author Ventura de la Vega, mezzo Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz

We then followed with “Canzonetta spagnuola”.  Our surprise encore was the vocal duet “Les amants de Seville”, with tenor Miguel Borrallo appearing from the back and joining Emilio and myself in our final trio.


Performing the duet “Les amants de Seville” by Rossini at                             La Quinta de Mahler in Madrid (Spain)

Our friends and colleagues from Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina were on hand to speak briefly of their collaboration in the disc with the vocal chamber ensemble “Un giorno sereno” written by Rossini in honor of the baptism of the son of his protector Alejandro Aguado, Marques de las Marismas.


Collage with Alejandro Aguado, Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina, G. Rossini and an excerpt of the score “O Giorno Sereno”

Gastronomy was not an afterthought in the presentation, given the importance of this topic with all that pertains to the composer Rossini…our friend the food commentator and writer Miguel Almódovar helped us with the menu, and with the help of former chef of the Plaza Hotel and present of the restaurant Sal de Hielo  Juan Miguel López Castañier , our guests could linger over the event at “La Quinta” over tapas and wine, before transferring to the restaurant across the street to say our final goodbyes:

Food article by food writer Miguel Almodovar at Espana alla Rossini

Disc Presentation


All photos in this article are by Joaquin Guijarro


The entire happenings of the evening can be viewed via this link on youtube:

Video presentation of the CD Espana alla Rossini 9/30/2015

“A Granados Celebration”: Uniting artists from Spain and New York City for the Granados Centennial

“A Granados Celebration”: Uniting artists from Spain and New York City for the Granados Centennial

In 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting thru a mutual friend the American pianist and Naxos recording artist Douglas Riva. Like myself, Douglas had cultivated a career based on the musical culture of late 19th and early 20th century Spain, and specifically so, regarding the Catalan composer Enrique (Enric) Granados (1868-1916).  I met him on the heels of the Isaac Albéniz centennial year, for which I had participated in two events: in NYC a small series of concerts entitled Albéniz the Ultimate Romantic with pianist Alexander Wu and guitarist Francisco Roldan; I had also been invited to participate in Albéniz’s The Magic Opal by my friend the pianist and musicologist Borja Mariño, I helped to  obtain a document about the libretto of this opera at New York University,  was on hand to prepare the chorus and soloist with English diction, as well as sing the small role of Olympia in the revival of this opera at the Auditorio Nacional de España in Madrid. At the time I had hopes of doing an Albéniz concert at the Hispanic Society of America, but the fates were not with me.  Knowing of the special relationship that the composer enjoyed with the founder of Hispanic Society of America, Archer Huntington, Douglas and I had our hopes to produce events for the Enrique Granados centennial year in 2016.


Composer Enrique (Enric) Granados

In 2012 we initiated the conversation with Hispanic Society and it was met with approval.  Shortly after, the Official International Committee Commemorating the Centenary of Enrique Granados in 2016 and the 150th Anniversary of his birth in 2017 was formed with a group of scholars, professors, heads of foundations and musicians both in Spain and the United States.  The committee is in part hosted and assisted by the Foundation for Iberian Music at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  Part of the committee’s goal is to have an updated calendar of events taking place throughout the world in 2016-2017 of the music of Enrique Granados, symposiums, commemorations and publications.

Two years of planning then took place to organize the events at Hispanic Society; we agreed on a series of three concerts entitled From Barcelona with Passion, with one dedicated to song repertoire and dance, one to the historical recreation of chamber music concert that took place in 1916 with Granados himself and cellist Pau Casals at the Ritz Hotel in NYC, and a final concert showcasing the solo piano music of the composer with Douglas Riva.  The New York based Sylvan Winds also forms part of the Granados music season at Hispanic Society,  with a concert that includes a transcription of a piece by Granados, accompanied by other music related to the time period.  A symposium event and concert has also been planned for March 10 of 2016 in collaboration with the Foundation of Iberian Music, at the CUNY Graduate Center in NYC.

I was in charge of putting together the dance and vocal concert that just transpired this past December 10 of 2015. The first order of business was finding a pianist that could help me program and advise on repertoire, as well as being able to edit (he is also a composer)  “Danza de los ojos verdes” a piece for classical Spanish dance dedicated by Granados to  Antonia Mercé, La Argentina in 1916. The music transcript in Granados’ hand writing is almost unreadable…I needed a virtuoso pianist accompanist, experienced  and sensitive to singers; in him I had all those things.  Borja, like many pianist accompanists in Spain, had been listening and playing the Tonadillas and the lesser known Canciones Amatorias practically all his life.


Pianist Borja Marino

Our title “From Barcelona with Passion” in my mind necessitated for us to have at least one interpreter from Granados’ native Catalonia.  We invited the lyric soprano Anna Belén Gómez to be part of the concert.  We agreed to divide both cycles between the two female singers.  It was agreed that we would perform 12 tonadillas al estilo antiguo, not excerpted as it is mostly done, but with all its elements, which for the most part is unknown to the general concert going public. The full cycle includes a song with a long recitation that relates a picaresque fable of Goya and an amorous escapade (“La maja de Goya”), a song for baritone called “El majo olvidado”, a duet for mezzo and soprano called “Las currutacas modestas” and the inclusion of an English Horn (for which we invited Dianne Lesser) to play the instrumental obbligato part that Granados composed in “Maja Dolorosa I”.  The program included the entire cycle of the often neglected Canciones Amatorias (difficult for both pianist and singer!) and two of the Songs for male voice by Enrique Granados, recently edited by Douglas with Editorial Boileau in Barcelona (La boira and Noche y dia Diego ronda).  I was able to enlist the help and participation of Argentinian baritone Gustavo Ahualli, fresh from bowing at the Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires, to learn these two elaborate and  difficult songs (La boira is in Catalan), which ranged somewhere between the aesthetics of Mahler, Brahms and Wagner.


Artists of “From Barcelona with Passion: Dance and Vocal Music of Enrique Granados” in the Library of the Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library in NYC, in a pre-concert photograph on the night of the concert.

One of my favorite figures in this time period is the great Spanish dancer Antonia Mercé, La Argentina (1890-1936).  La Argentina played an important role in our story:  Archer Huntington helped make possible for the Metropolitan Opera of New York to premiere the opera “Goyescas”. The ballet of this opera, the “Intermezzo”, was intended to be interpreted by La Argentina, but there were contractual problems.  Granados as a consolation for the dancer who was already in NYC, wrote “Danza de los ojos verdes”, which was premiered with the composer in the audience in NYC in 1916.  The concert of dance and vocal works included a new reinterpretation of this piece with choreography by Gala Vivancos and interpreted by New York based Spanish dance artist Anna de la Paz.  Anna commissioned a copy of the same dress worn by La Argentina on that occasion in 1916, which was designed by the painter Ignacio Zuloaga. Both the new choreography and dress were essayed on the vocal and dance concert of December 10th at Hispanic Society.

La Argentina

Antonia Merce, “La Argentina”

One of the reasons this period in Spanish culture is interesting to me is because it is generally called “The Silver Age” of Spanish culture, and a big characteristic of the period is the collaboration and friendships of artists of all genres coming together to create new and at the time Avant garde modern pieces of art.  Granados wrote dance pieces for the dancer Tortola Valencia among others; his contributions to the genre of dance is not generally known. Many painters and visual artists of the period participated in theatrical projects that included the designing of costumes and sets, as Picasso did with Les ballets russe and Sombrero de tres picos by Falla (the backdrop of this ballet currently hangs at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan).  “Danza de los ojos verdes” was also a creation of friends, with composer, interpreter and painter/costume design…


Collage with an Ignacio Zuloaga painting, and a photograph of Anna de la Paz and Borja Marino interpreting “Danza de los ojos verdes” at Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library in New York City

If any readers of Spanish Song Slinger are performers or musicologists, and have events that can be listed in the Granados Centennial Year of 2016-2017 calendar, please send a press release with the event to the Iberian Music Center, with email heading Granados Centennial Calendar Announcement, to:


For more information on the Enrique Granados Centennial, please see:


Granados’ Maja fetish

Granados’ Maja fetish

“I fell in love with Goya’s psychology, his palette, with himself and the Duchess of Alba, with his pretty wife, his models, his quarrels, loves and courtships. That pinkish white on the cheeks in contrast to me with the black lace and embroidered velour, those bodies of swaying waists, mother-of-pearl and jasmine hands resting on jet ornaments have dazzled me…”.

Thus wrote the composer Enrique (Enric) Granados (1867-1916); the two major achievements by this composer in vocal music are inspired by this world that Goya depicted of the “lower neighborhoods” of 18th century Madrid; its what I would call from my NYC point of view the “‘hood”, with his heroines, the brash and audacious young girls that during the day were perhaps fruit and hat sellers or bar maids at the botillerias of Madrid, and at night, were hanging out with their dangerous but dashing boyfriends, the Majos.   The 12 Tonadillas al estilo antiguo and his opera Goyescas, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera 1916 (and remains to this day, the only opera by a composer of Spain to have graced the stage of the MET). In the Goya painting detail of La maja y los embozados, you can see how the young maja, confident and smiling knows how to handle herself in the middle of the tough and dangerous guys of the neighborhood; they are charmed by her no doubt, as she dances impervious to whatever danger there is (thriving in it even) and with “gracia”.

On December 10th at 7 PM at the Hispanic Society of America, the first kick off concert for the Enrique Granados Centennial Celebration of his visit to the great city of New York , the first of a concert series of three events

From Barcelona with Passion: Vocal and Dance music by Enrique Granados

as well as of his untimely death that very same year in the English Channel.  The program will include a complete rendition of the the Tonadillas al Estilo Antiguo, with text by Fernando Periquet, complete with the baritone solo “El majo olvidado”, the duet for two female voices “La currutacas modestas” (the modest fashionable ladies), the English horn with the song “Maja dolorosa I”, and the often neglected recitation by Periquet, that precedes the song “La maja de Goya”, over the instrumental portion of that song, often played in silence, but when divinely played by pianist Alicia de Larrocha, as in her Decca London recording with Pilar Lorengar or the live LP with Victoria de los Angeles at Hunter College, NY, one could hardly miss it.  Since I was assigned to sing La maja de Goya by my intrepid friend and colleague, the pianist Borja Mariño, who accompanies the soprano Anna Belen Gomez and baritone Gustavo Ahualli as well as myself in this concert, I have the task of doing this recitation.  The recitation tells a fantasy tale of how, while with a lady in his studio, they are surprised by the her husband; the lady only has time to cover her face, as he bursts in. As the husband comes in to reclaim his wife, Goya challenges to recognize his wife by examining her naked body. The jealous husband, unable to identify the lady as his wife by her body alone, leaves with his apologies.  All done in the Spanish “caballero” way…

After the recitation, a short “ditty” song begins, and in my imagination its the lady in question, who was saved by Goya’s cunning, perhaps remembering after many years later with nostalgia, the adventures of the memorable afternoon, next to the Manzanares river.

Never in my life will I

forget the gallant and

cherished image of Goya.

There is not a woman, maid

or lady who does not think

well of Goya now.

If I might find someone

to love me

Like he loved me,

I would not envy nor yearn

for better luck or happiness.

It was related to me by the pianist and Granados specialist Douglas Riva that there seems to be evidence that the composer disagreed with the tone set by the recitation, in terms of the genre and the “cafe cantante” format that it gave to the cycle. The recitation to my knowledge has not been recorded and I have never witnessed a performance that includes it.

Goya’s image of “a mixture of a artist, majo, bullfighter, soldier” to quote Periquet’s recitation in La maja de Goya, seems to have captured the imagination of many in the 19th century. I’m half way thru a very colorful novel about his possible escapade with the Duchess of Alba called “This is the Hour”. It has excellent depictions of dress, court manners, decorative arts, of dance and music scenes…as well as rendezvous scenes with the famous and fabled Duchess.  Its proving to be excellent “light and fun” reading, for someone immersing herself in the world of Goya and the Las 12 tonadillas al estilo antiguo of Granados!

Vocal and Dance Music of Enrique Granados in December of 2015 in NYC

Tuesday December 8 at 7 PM a the Instituto Cervantes of NY

An Enrique Granados Celebration:

Wednesday December 9 at 6:30 PM at the Coffee House Club of NY:

Thursday December 10 at 7:00 PM at the Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library

From Barcelona with Passion:  Vocal and Dance Music of Enrique Granados