The announcement of a Zarzuela Gala on Sunday, November 13th at Weill Recital Hall at New York’s Carnegie Hall came as a pleasant and unexpected surprise because one does not find often a zarzuela concert in New York City.
For those of you who don’t know (and there’s a big number in the United States, even among a cultured audiences) and although Zarzuela is almost impossible to describe with one word, or to give it a uniform description, Zarzuela is the blending between traditional Spanish music and the European operatic forms. In a way it is the Spanish national answer to musical comedy, a mix of traditional and popular music, even folk sometimes, with opera and operetta forms. Zarzuela comes from a very complicated musical tradition that is wide and very rich. Having survived for such a long time as a genre, one can find zarzuelas composed in the 18th century musical style which could be seen as scarlattiesque; as a 19th century operatic form; dramatic; historical; regional (using traditional dances and popular tunes); operetta-type; as opera buffa, etc.
What matters here is that Zarzuela has always been immensely popular in Spain. They are still performed in every city in Spain (and also in South America) and its most popular tunes are known and sung by almost every Spaniard. My grandmother is a good example of this: in the 1920’s she had a full-subscription at Teatro Apolo (the main theater for zarzuelas in Madrid) and she would attend sometimes to the daily fourth performance of the day, known as “La Cuarta de Apolo” (“Apolo’s Fourth Performance” ) this last one being always the most popular of the four. She knew by heart every song, every prelude, every duo and every trio,from all the zarzuelas in the entire repertoire; and she was no exception since in Spain they were many people who like her, knew zarzuelas by heart.
In any case, last Sunday November 13th, the New York-based non-profit organization “Amigos de la Zarzuela” organized a memorable all-zarzuela concert in Carnegie Hall, to our delight. The program included solo pieces “romanzas”, arias, and ensemble works from many different periods and the many different styles that one can find in the Zarzuela repertoire. We even listened to chamber music from composers such as Manuel De Falla, Enrique Granados or Luigi Bocherinni, composers that one necessarily does not relate to Zarzuela.
Maxim Anikushin, the piano virtuoso played these chamber pieces, sometimes solo, and at other times accompanied by Elisabet Torras Aguilera, who in this concert performed “Danza Clásica Española” and “Escuela Bolera” dance styles; her dance performances included difficult castanet playing, especially in her performance of “Danza V” by Enrique Granados; in this instance she was accompanied by the polished mezzo Anna Tonna (in a rare version of this solo piano piece with sung text), who is well known for her research and commitment to the music of Spain and Latin America; she had a clear vocal style that was perfectly suited for Zarzuela and for Spanish repertoire.
We also heard Spanish tenor Miguel Borrallo, who had an amazing high register, able to easily deal with the difficulties of the Zarzuela repertoire, well known for its vocal challenges.
Maxim Anikushin also accompanied soprano Rosa D’Imperio and baritone Ricardo Rosa, and the other two singers demonstrated their deep knowledge and understanding of the zarzuelas, specially at the end when all four performed the famous “Mazurca de las sombrillas” from Federico Moreno-Torroba‘s “Luisa Fernanda“, or at the end of the first half of the concert in the inspired duet “Dejame tocar tu mano generosa” from Jose Serrano’s “La Dolorosa” (my favorite) in which Anna Tonna and Miguel Borrallo did an excellent job and bringing the audience to tears and to a well deserved final ovation.
Award winning Spanish composer Ricardo Llorca is a professor at the Juilliard School; he resides in New York City, website: http://www.ricardollorca.com/bio_eng.htm