Ninth Annual Latin American Piano & Song of Festival of New York: Review by Sandra Mercado

Ninth Annual Latin American Piano & Song of Festival of New York: Review by Sandra Mercado

The 9th Annual Latin American Piano & Song Festival of New York:

Centennial celebration of the birth of Carlos Jiménez Mabarak, Consuelo Velázquez, Alberto Ginastera, and Henrietta Yurchenco on November 14, 2016 at the Renee Weiler Concert Hall in Greenwich House Music School, New York City.

I had no previous knowledge of the Latin American Piano & Song Festival in New York City. If I had, I would have been there since the first year. This is César Reyes’ 9th year as producer, performer, and music director of this project. I’m familiar with Latin American Art Song but I’m not familiar with Latin American Piano Music. Reyes’ talents as a musicologist were in ample display on November 14th.

Before each piece Reyes addressed the audience and gave a short introduction of how he encountered the piece and how he got his hands on the score, since working editions of this music is difficult to obtain. He dedicated the program to one of his mentors, the American Ethnomusicologist Henrietta Yurchenco. He began the program with Mexican composer Carlos Jiménez Mabarak “Sonata para piano” and “Ay luna ven”. I didn’t know Jimenéz’s music, so it was a pleasure listening to this wonderful pianist bestow life to the notes on the page. This was a great beginning to what ended up being a delightful evening.

Next, he played “Fiesta de pájaros” by Guatemalan composer Jesús Castillo. As a listener, it was fun to picture each bird. Reyes technique allows him to produce a lot of sound and a clear trill for the bird calls. He followed with the Puerto Rican danza “Mis Amores” by Simón Madera. With this piece Reyes failed to transport me to a late 19th early 20th century ballroom in Old San Juan. I was a little disappointed since he had previously taken me to the Amazonas with the bird calls in the previous piece. This didn’t last long since he made up for it by playing “Marinera de concierto” by Peruvian composer Rosa Mercedes Ayarza. This piece was a great discovery, and a wonderful example of Peruvian Nationalist music.

For this festival Reyes invited singer Diana Sofía to sing Consuelo Velázquez’ classics “Amar y vivir” and “Besame mucho”. He then closed the concert with Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Milonga” and “Danzas Argentinas”. To an enthusiastic clapping audience, he performed the Mexican National Anthem transcription by Ricardo Castro displaying great skill playing a masterwork of Mexican Nationalism. I greatly enjoyed this concert and discovered new music from composers had not known previously. Thank you, César Reyes, for a delightful evening. Looking forward to the 10th Annual Latin American Piano & Song Festival.

Guest writer of the  Spanish Song Slinger blog, Puerto Rican soprano Sandra Mercado is based in New York City and is dedicated to the classical vocal repertoire of the composers of Latin American.


Concert Review of Zarzuela Gala in Carnegie Hall on Nov. 13, 2016, reviewed by Ricardo Llorca

Concert Review of Zarzuela Gala in Carnegie Hall on Nov. 13, 2016, reviewed by Ricardo Llorca

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.


Final ensemble “Mazurka de las sombrillas” at 31st Annual Gala of Los Amigos de la Zarzuela at New York’s Carnegie Hall on November 13, 2016. Photo credit:  Keenan Higgins

 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.


Spanish dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera and pianist Maxim Anikushin during Isaac Albeniz’s “Asturias”, photo credit:  Keenan Higgins

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.


Final bows with Maxim Anikusin, Elisabet Torras Aguilera, Anna Tonna, Ricardo Rosa, Rosa D’Imperio and Miguel Borrallo, photo credit:  H. Stephen Brown

Award winning Spanish composer Ricardo Llorca is a professor at the Juilliard School; he  resides in New York City, website:

“Una voz, un mundo: The Latin American Songbook”


I was happy to see that Latin American Art Song was being celebrated for Hispanic Heritage Month here in NYC, with an atractive concert produced by the young and enterprising tenor Mario Arévalo. The concert, held on the evening Friday October 28th as part of the “Music at Second Presbyterian Church” in Manhattan, programmed both Latin song standards as well as lesser known gems from the art song realm; then again, Latin American composers, both pop and classical have been know to walk a fine line between the two worlds. This subtle interplay between pop standards and the denominated “art song” characterized the whole evening.

Tenor Mario Arévalo

The concert was accompanied by pianists Juan Guerra González and Markus Kaitila, as well as percussionist Aracely Sánchez and guitarist Bradley Colten.  Arévalo was joined by sopranos Elissa Álvarez, Teresa Castillo, Rosa D’Imperio and Mary Thorne; tenor Andrés Peñalver and bass-baritone Iván Amaro rounded off the interpreters of the evening.

The concert began with an ensemble version of “Siempre en mi corazón” by the well known Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) and segued into a first half of short song sets by composers from Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico. Bass-baritone Iván Amaro and tenor Andrés Peñalver performed songs that highlighted composers from Argentina and Venezuela. The young and silver toned soprano Teresa Castillo pleased the audience with two beautifully interpreted songs from the mid 20th century pop standard world that begged to be sung by a lyric voice: “Luna Liberiana” by Jesús Bomilla (1911-1999) from Costa Rica was a mix of jazz and French impressionism; “El Faisán” by Lecuona climbed to a higher tessitura that showed off Ms. Castillo’s voice to great advantage.

Soprano Teresa Castillo

The generous and impassioned voice of Rosa D’Imperio’s spinto soprano filled the hall with her interpretations of “Estrellita” by Mexican Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) as well as the final romanza from Lecuona’s Cuban Zarzuela “María la O”. Joining her in an appropriate manner were the bongos of of Aracely Sánchez.

Soprano Rosa D’Imperio

Mr. Arévalo gave us a wonderful rendition of the bolero “Costumbres” by Mexican composer Juan Gabriel (1950-2016), and Mr. Peñalver drew smiles from the audience when he essayed the well known “Cielito Lindo” by Mexico’s Quirino Mendóza y Cortés (1862-1957).

In the second half, Ms. Castillo returned with a song that again was a perfect fit, with Spain’s Joaquin Rodrigo’s “De los alamos vengo, madre”, followed by soprano  Mary Thorne’s only solo appearance in the concert, with the soprano/guitar version of Heitor Villalobos lyrical first aria from his “Bachianas Brasileiras 5”. The fiendishly difficult buchee fermée section was splendidly performed and greatly appreciated by the audience.

I was pleasantly surprised to know of the work of the lyric soprano Elissa Álvarez, who interpreted three very fine songs by the Colombian and onetime resident of our city of New York, the Colombian composer and conductor Jaime León (1921-2015). Sensitively interpreted and with fine text couloring, she rounded out what was the  bona fide “art song” section of the program. 

Soprano Elissa Álvarez

Following were interpretations of “Fina estampa” by Chabuca Granda of Peru, appropriately sung by Iván Amaro; there was the soulful interpretation of the song “Olas y arenas” by Puerto Rico’s most beloved “torch” song composer Sylvia Rexach by Ms. D’Imperio, with an original arrangement by pianist and composer from El Salvador, Juan Guerra González.

The final set was an homage to Mr. Arévalo’s native El Salvador, which he presided over with two songs by Pancho Lara (1900-1989):  “El carbonero” and “Las cortadoras”; the concert had a special ending with the US premiere of Mr. Guerra González’s nostalgic ode to a mother’s love with “Las manos de mi madre”, which had an attractive melody and brought the concert to a successful close.

Modernismo Rumbero Concert at Americas Society


It was with great interest that I spied that  The Americas Society  on Park Avenue had scheduled a concert of vocal and chamber works dedicated to the young mavericks composers that headed up the early 20th century modernist movement in Latin American music in the 1920’s and 30’s.  The names on the program are composers that I knew from my own forays into songs of the early to mid 20th century composers of Latin America:  the Cuban composers Alejandro García-Caturla, Amadeo Roldán and the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez; so it was with great it was expectation that I made my way via an invitation from America’s Society Martha Cargo to attend the concert with the intriguing and inventive title of  “Modernismo Rumbero” on March 28, 2016.


The second of a two part series, the  “Modernismo Rumbero” concert that took place on Monday March 28, 2016  highlighted the most avant garde of movements of the 20’s and 30’s known as “Afrocubanismo“, which in many ways heralds the Harlem Renaissance movement, and which interestingly enough key members of the respective movements were in close contact with each other, such as American poet Langston Hughes and Cuban poet Alejo Carpentier. Also to be noted are friendships and communications between American composer Henry Cowell with the musical factions of Afrocubanism via an association called the Pan American Association of Composers (1928-1934) also known as PAAC, founded by Edgar Varèse. A fascinating collective of music creators, this group sought to forge with new sounds and new identity a way to separate themselves from a past European musical heritage.  Although this concert of  two pioneer musical exponents of Afrocubanism includes Mexican composer Carlos Chávez (how could it not!) with his ties to NYC and to the movement Pan American Composers collective, this concert sought to offer a vision of this very exciting time that involved  identity, race politics in poetry and music creation in the Americas.


Cuban composer Alejandro Garcia Caturla

Pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine began the first half of the program with Garcia-Caturla’s “Preludio corto” (1927)  with its ragtime scales laced with dodecaphony, followed by Roldán’s “Rítmica No. 1” (1930). The pianist delved into both of these piano miniatures with verve and imagination, exploiting the percussive nature of the pieces;  these two short piano pieces were over too soon, and I immediately wished to have the opportunity hear them again; I didn’t know at this point in the concert in the concert that my wish would be granted. The concert continued with the remarkable woodwind quintet ensemble The City of Tomorrow and  soprano Sarah Brailey, with a performance of Carlos Chávez settings of text by modernist Mexican poet Carlos Pellicer for high soprano and wind ensemble called “Tres exágonos” (1923) and “Otros tres exágonos” (1924).  The intrepid Sarah Brailey entered with spiked short blonde hair and an arm sling; with her free hand she yielded a tuning fork. The group subsequently launched into a highly difficult three movement .  I appreciated Brailey’s clear soprano and well pronounced Spanish text, which breathed of the surrealism that was contemporary to this composition. The playing was assertive and energetic.  A serious piece and not for the faint of heart, “Tres exágonos” (1924) reminded me of a possible plaintive flapper Ophelia recounting her troubles listlessly on an analyst couch. “Otros tres exágonos” was a well chosen subsequent piece to contrast, full of humor and highlighted the virtuosity of the guest violist Stephanie Griffin.  I enjoyed the somewhat theatrical music that Chávez assigned to the bassoon part in these pieces, which was full imaginative interjections for the ensemble as a whole. The Carlos Pellicer texts were certainly eye catching, surreal and dreamlike; I post her a translated excerpt:

The ship has crashed into the moon.

Our luggage was suddenly illuminated.

We all spoke verse

And referred to the most hidden facts.

But the moon sank

In spite of our romantic efforts.

The Chávez chamber vocal ensemble piece was followed by a folk like piano solo miniature by Roldán “Preludio Cubano”, and Afro flavored “Mulato” (1932) as well as Garcia Caturla’s “Comparsa” (1930).  To end the first half was the surprisingly long phrased lines of the song for voice and piano “Yambambó” (1933) by Garcia Caturla, a musical setting of the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén famous poem. The song is remarkable on many levels, the first of which that it unites the two most important exponents of the new Afro Cuban modernist aesthetic in both music and poetry.  Having sung several versions of this text, the setting of García Caturla’s was surprising to me. Brailey sailed almost too delicately thru the strongly cadenced Afro Cuban “nonsense” text. The contrast and choice was probably drawn from the composition itself, perhaps in García Caturla’s effort to create his new aesthetic to perhaps to astonish a concert going public of the time, the pairing of a classical soprano with Guillén’s text of drunken black man, with music that harmonically in its melody was close to the Afro-Cuban sound, but arching phrases wise closer to an aria from an opera.  I couldn’t help of thinking of the contemporary art scene analogous to these pieces, the interest in African art and masks of Picasso for example as well as the sheer energy I felt from these pieces of these young composers, wanting to create a new language and a new expression.  How did the public of these pieces react when hearing this music? what did the first interpreters of “Tres exáganos” make of this music, what were their choices?  90 years later the pieces still sound very daring.


Soprano Sarah Brailey

At intermission, music director of the Americas Society concert series Sebastian Zubieta talked of the “nonesense”poem tradition in the early 20th century Latin America from which the text Yambambó is born of; he cited  Lewis Carroll,  but I couldn’t help thinking of a much closer contemporary, Gertrude Stein and her path breaking text for the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson. I was also reminded of the US version of these experimental concerts, the well known “Friends and Enemies of New Music”.  Like many movements, these modern Latinos are coming out of a very specific zeitgeist.  Zubieta spoke how the evenings concert was also an homage to these very same concerts that these composers produced to show case their work, and how in the second half of the concert the pieces were repeated; this was the case with the concert of the evening. All the pieces were repeated in a different order, and I must say it was with different ears that I was able to hear the very same music.


A stamp commemorating the Cuban composer Amadeo Roldan

The Americas Society is to be congratulated for the programming of these seldom heard pieces, which in the light of the new diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, it is certainly on point for us to get reacquainted as a concert going public with the musical ties and history between Cuba, the rest of Latin America and the US.

A link to a PDF of “Modernismo Rumbero” concert program can be found via this link:

Concert for piano, guitar and voice for Musica de Camara of NYC


The tireless Eva de la O, soprano, producer, arts promoter and artistic director of Musica de Camara of NYC has been a supporter of my activities for many years now.  She first programmed me in a solo recital at the Museum of the History of New York in 2006, and has followed my activities both here in town and in Spain. She miraculously appeared at my dressing room at a concert I did in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was at hand to zip me up in a somewhat tight orange satin number that I wore…


Anna at the Festival Ibero Americano de las Artes in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Eva has helped many musicians and interpreters like myself thru the years that are either of Latin American descent and or committed to music by Spanish and Latin American composers, by presenting these artists in concerts at important NYC venues.


Soprano and artistic director of Musica de Camara, Eva de la O

 I was thrilled when she asked me to be part of her series of “Charla Conciertos” (lecture concerts) which take place at New York’s Museo del Barrio, and be part of her season this year which celebrates the accomplishments of the composer Roberto Sierra.  I had the opportunity of interpreting his piece for mezzo and wind quintet called “Dona Rosita la Soltera” with text by Federico Garcia Lorca (see an earlier blog article I wrote regarding this piece). This time I was asked to perform his newly composed cycle “Julia”, for voice and piano on text of my favorite poet, Julia de Burgos (1915-1953)

Julia joven

Poet Julia de Burgos

Together with the cycle for mezzo and piano by Sierra, a piece for solo guitar by this same composer was programmed, “Tres piezas breves” to be interpreted by my new friend  the guitarist  Oren Fader, along with two short songs by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa- Lobos and a cycle for voice and guitar by the Cuban/Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso called “Homenajes”. Both “Julia” and “Homenajes” are NYC premieres.

Its not my first incursion in interpreting musical works with text by Julia de Burgos; I did a special concert project called Canciones para Julia in Madrid (Spain) in the occasion of the centennial of her birth, with my friends at Aeterna Musica and the group from the editorial La Discreta in 2015 but that’s the subject of a future blog article!

I enclose the program notes I wrote for this concert, which will take place on Friday March 4 at 8 PM at El Museo del Barrio of NYC; I will be writing a detailed article on my experience and impressions of the song cycle “Julia”, which I perform with  my good friend, the pianist/opera conductor and composer Samuel Kardos.

Concert Link for March 4 Concert Presented by Musica de Camara – Premiere of cycle Julia by Roberto Sierra

The song cycle Julia (2014) by Roberto Sierra is a commission by the Chancellor of the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico in occasion of the centennial of the birth of Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos (1914-1953), who is acknowledged as one of the great poets of Latin America. Ranging from the folk like and elegiac beginning of “Amante”, the cycle continues its journey taking its cues from Burgo’s projection of the self onto nature with “O pájaro de amor” with its euphoric triad piano figures, to the portrayal of intense self-scrutiny of different states of being using quasi recitativo passages over a syncopated walking bass (“Momentos”). Sierra’s usage of Neo-romantic color is reminiscent at times of Robert Schumann and the great German romantic lied composers; he is able to approach the subtle and at times dramatic cadence of the text, with usage of vocal melodies that transition into intense and at times frenetic heights; this in turn is coupled with an accompaniment that brings the listener to emotionally “complex” moments. The setting of the Spanish text is satisfying and organic, giving full rein for both the interpreters and audience to experience a work that is honest, thoughtful and in synch with the emotional landscape of the poet. Tonight’s performance constitutes the New York premiere of this song cycle for mezzo soprano and piano.

The guitar works and concertos by Roberto Sierra are being commissioned by solo guitar artists and orchestras both here and in Europe; his works for solo guitar are currently being lionized and recorded by the likes of Manuel Barruecos for Naxos with pieces such as his Concierto Barroco and Folías, which incorporate themes and aesthetics drawn from Latin American narrative, folk and baroque music; witty and highly colorful, Piezas Breves was premiered in 1997.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos hardly needs introduction, as he is considered one of the giants of 20th century Latin American classical; he is represented tonight not in his avant garde, Amero-Indian or Debussy like aesthetics, but in a almost sentimental vein that harks to an imagined 19th century romanticism of his native Brazil: Canção Do Poeta Do Seculo XVIII (1948) is a melancholic melody that like many pieces by the composer, gently balances between art song and popular ballad. Nhapôpé is taken from the first collection of Modinhas e cançðes, composed in 1936 and tells of the legend of a forest goddess that comes during the night seeking a lover.

Homenajes” for mezzo and guitar (2014) by Cuban-Spanish composer Eduardo Morales-Caso is described by the composer as his “most meaningful lyrical-music, which offers historical continuity of the transcendental legacy of Spanish composition.” Each piece offers a separate homage to three of the most important composers of 20th century Spain: Joaquín Rodrigo, Frederic Mompou and Manuel de Falla.


The works of Roberto Sierra are edited by Subito Press. Pictured here is an edition of            Julia de Burgos poetry entitled “Songs of Simple Truth, which I bought at a leftist bookstore in the Village called “Revolutions”,  translated and edited by Jack Agueros

España alla Rossini en el Real Círculo de Labradores de Sevilla, Critica del Diario de Sevilla

España alla Rossini en el Real Círculo de Labradores de Sevilla, Critica del Diario de Sevilla


Programa: Canciones de Gioacchino Rossini de inspiración española. Mezzosoprano: Anna Tonna. Tenor: Alain Damas. Piano: Emilio González Sanz. Lugar: Real Círculo de Labradotres y Propietarios de Sevilla. Fecha: Viernes, 15 de enero. Aforo: Lleno.

Antes de su visita a Madrid en 1831, Rossini ya había tenido ocasión de entrar en contacto con España y su música, una música por la que siempre manifestó un interés especial y que cultivó hasta sus útimos días parisinos. En 1815 conoce en Nápoles a la cantante madrileña Isabel Colbrán, que acabaría siendo su primera esposa y por mediación de la cual se produjo el feliz encuentro con el sevillano Manuel García. Ya en París, el reencuentro con García le abrió la posibilidad de conocer a muchos músicos españoles exiliados, además de al banquero también sevillano Alejandro Aguado, su gran protector hasta su muerte.

En tal entorno, Rossini se entusiasmó con los ritmos y aires españoles, como el bolero y la tirana y muestra de ello es el inteligente y novedoso programa que ayer se ofreció en el Labradores (en su brillante nueva andadura musical) con casi toda la obra españolista de Rossini.

 Anna Tonna es una mezzo de poderosos medios, con una voz de considerable volumen y timbre de gran belleza, ancha, profunda y sedosa, con bien resuelto pasaje y agudos penetrantes. Desde el punto de vista expresivo cabe subrayar en ella su elegante legato y su fraseo lleno de intención y de emotividad, tanto en las piezas más lánguidas (A Granada, La viuda) como en las más rítmicas, llenas de gracia y de garbo. Con todo, me quedo con su Fac ut portem, una maravillosa muestra de delicadeza en el fraseo y de control de la voz. Damas cumplió con brillantez sus dos participaciones y González acompañó con mimo y con riqueza de sonido, delicadísimo en Una caresse muy íntima.


Andrés Moreno Menjibar

Diario de Sevilla

16 de enero 2016

Review of Espana alla Rossini in Scherzo magazine

Review of Espana alla Rossini in Scherzo magazine

“It is well known the relationship that Rossini had with Spain, as he was married at one point to the soprano Isabel Colbran, had an intimate friendship with the Garcia family, spoke Castilian, composed for a Spanish public using characteristic themes of the (Iberian) peninsula for several of his (compositions) pages.  Here are we have 16 brief numbers, which are easily understood as being as salon music, although said with all due respect as it belongs to the great Giaochino of Pesaro. They are works for the occasion, and we all know how much advantage he could take of said occasions.  Its enough to give a look at his Sins of old Age, as he himself called them.  The fountains (from which the material) can be easily discerned to the ear, and its exquisite treatment is evidenced.  Rossini was inevitably gracious, melodious and amorous to the voice, and ingenious with the piano. It includes the dances tirana and bolero, religious inspiration, the breaking of love and the furtive (love) scene.  It is always Rossinian, with that all is said.  The interpreters have given care (to the pieces), know what this style asks for, and the sound of the pianoforte gives the atmosphere the color of salon and the peculiar flavor that helps to transport ourselves towards the airs of this infrequently heard music.  For its document and profesionality of the labor, it deserves many lauds”.

Blas Matamoro, Scherzo magazine, January 2016


“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