Category Archives: Bel canto

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.

 

 

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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

España alla Rossini Disc Review in Melómano Digital

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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.

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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.

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 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

 

 

 

Lucia Valentini Terrani: “Rossini’s genius is very modern…”

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“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”.

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Lucia Valentini Terrani (1946-1998)

“La viuda náufrago” one of Rossini’s “Spanish” songs, with text by Ventura de la Vega

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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.

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Emilio and I at the Museo del Romanticismo of Madrid, where we first performed the recital and project “Rossini and Spain”.

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”.

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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.

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Edition of “La veuve andalouse” and various letters written by Rossini from the library archive at the Royal Conservatory in 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”

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Ventura de la Vega (1807-1865))

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?

Esta desesperación

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!

Infeliz barquilla…

¿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…

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Adelina Patti (1843-1919)

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.

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It all began in Malta, with a concert called “Rossini and Spain”…

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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.

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Emilio and I rehearsing at the San Anton Palace in Valetta in June of 2012.

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.

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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)

“Canzonetta spagnuola”

“À Grenade” from the album Melodies françaises

“Bolero”

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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.

Review from the Malta Times of “Rossini and Spain”

 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.

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Emilio and I receiving gifts and congratulations from First Lady Mrs. Margaret Abela at the St. Anton Palace in June of 2012.

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

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 To contribute to the making of España alla Rossini, please check out my video and platform on Hatchfund:

http://www.hatchfund.org/project/espa_a_alla_rossini

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