Tag Archives: Anna Tonna

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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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

“Pascua Florida”: nuevo cíclo para mezzo y piano Miquel Ortega sobre textos de Maria Lejárraga

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“Pascua Florida”: nuevo cíclo para mezzo y piano Miquel Ortega sobre textos de Maria Lejárraga

Pascua Florida Nuevo cíclo de 8 canciones para mezzo soprano y piano, sobre textos de María Lejárraga, compuestas por el compositor Miquel Ortega; estreno absoluto domingo 12 de febrero, 2012 en el National Opera Center de Nueva York; mezzo soprano Anna Tonna y Max Lifchitz, piano.

Notas de programa

María de la O Lejárraga (La Rioja, 1874- Buenos Aires, 1974), conocida también como María Martinez Sierra, escritora y feminista española, es uno de esos personajes particulares que nos deja la historia en ocasiones. Hija de buena familia, logró una educación por encima de lo habitual en una mujer de su época. Esposa del dramaturgo Gregorio Martínez Sierra desde 1900, escribió siempre oculta bajo el nombre de su marido, mientras públicamente defendía los derechos de la mujer, consiguiendo incluso un escaño de diputada en 1933.

El matrimonio Martinez Sierra formó la que probablemente haya sido la unión más singular y enigmática de la historia de las letras españolas, una colaboración que resultó clave para la difusión del modernismo. Fundaron revistas literarias de vanguardia, como Helios y Renacimiento, donde escribieron los mejores escritores su época, y desde su papel como productores teatrales en el Teatro Eslava, impulsaron la más importante renovación teatral del primer tercio del siglo xx en el pais, mientras reunían a su alrededor a los creadores más inovadores e importantes del momento.

Tras su matrimonio, María Lejárraga escribió bajo el nombre de Gregorio Martínez Sierra, aunque ha quedado claro en tiempos modernos que todas las obras de Martínez Sierra fueron escritas por nuestra autora (auténticos best-sellers de la época, como Canción de cuna, llevada al cine en 4 ocasiones, una de ellas en Hollywood), asi como también las primeras traducciones en España de Shakespeare, Shaw, Maeterlinck, Ibsen y Ionesco. Entre los muchos triunfos en el mundo de la lírica de la “marca” Martinez Sierra se pueden citar Las Golondrinas y La llama, con música de Usandizaga (1914), y Margot y Jardin de Oriente, ambas de Joaquín Turina.

Hoy nos enfocamos en dicho trabajo de María Lejárraga en el campo de la lírica, y concretamente en la amistad y colaboración entre ella y el compositor Manuel de Falla. Ellos fueron los creadores de dos obras clave del ballet español del siglo XX, El amor brujo y El sombrero de tres picos, que llevaron a la fama mundial Les ballets Russes y Antonia Mercé, La Argentina.

Manuel de Falla conoció al matrimonio Martínez Sierra en París. A consecuencia de la I Guerra Mundial, Falla regresa a España y empieza a trabajar con el matrimonio, en realidad con Lejárraga únicamente. En 1915 Lejárraga y el compositor gaditano realizaron un viaje a finales de marzo y primeros de abril a Andalucía, en visperas del estreno de la primera versión de El amor brujo en el Teatro Lara, el 15 de abril de ese año. La primera ciudad que visitaron fue Granada, ciudad que el músico gaditano no conocía, despues Ronda y Cádiz. En parte del epistolario que mantuvieron ambos (y que publica Antonio Gallego en un trabajo titulado ‘Pascua Florida: Un proyecto poético de María Lejárraga para Manuel de Falla’ en 1996 ) se refieren muchas veces a una especie de “album de viaje” poético musical. En 1980 Union Musical Española publica Obras desconocidas de Manuel de Falla, con cinco canciones, entre ellas “La canción andaluza: Pan de Ronda”, que formaba parte de ese álbum de viaje.

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Manuel de Falla, Maria Lejarraga y Joaquin Turina

En las cartas se comentaban planes para una ”suite” y un preludio. Pero la correspondencia delata un cambio de tono, desde la complicidad y familiaridad inicial, al enfado meses despues del viaje, por un incidente entre los dos amigos. La única canción que nos llega, a pesar de los ruegos de Lejárraga a Falla para que pusiera en música otras piezas del poemario, es, pues, “Pan de Ronda”. En el Archivo Manuel de Falla se conserva el esbozo de lo que hubiera sido esta suite vocal, escrito a lapiz con letra de Lejárraga sobre el dorso de un programa de concierto en Cádiz:

“Para el maestro Falla, tan amigo de guardar papeles viejos.”
“Pascua Florida” El jardín venenoso El descanso en San Nicolás El corazón que duerme bajo el agua El barrio gitano El salón de Carlos V Tinieblas en el convento El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad El sol de Gibraltar Ciudades orientales Cádiz se echa a navegar

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Esbozo original del texto “Cadiz se ha echado a navegar” por Maria Lejarraga, cortesia del Archivo-Manuel de Falla (Granada)

Al leer por primera vez estos versos salta a la vista la belleza de los poemas que sobreviven de este listado: El jardín venenoso; Tinieblas en el convento; El descanso en San Nicolás; El pan de Ronda que sabe a verdad y Cádiz se echa a navegar. Un proyecto que no se completó, y que pudo haber sido otra obra maestra de Falla.

Desde que en 2010 Anna Tonna comenzó este viaje para conocer la faceta creadora y a la vez de musa inspiradora de María Lejárraga, todo lo que ha descubierto le ha llevado, junto con Mari Luz Gonzalez, autora del libro Música y músicos en la vida de María Lejárraga, a idear un proyecto en el cual estos poemas semiocultos de Lejárraga pudieran recobrar vida bajo la pluma de un compositor que diera voz a estos versos, creados durante una época feliz para los dos amigos, ese viaje en el que la escritora desveló al insigne maestro las bellezas de la Alhambra y del barrio del Albaicín…

De esta manera Tonna y González encargaron al compositor Miquel Ortega esta labor tan especial y emotiva, terminar este ciclo de canciones, para que músicos y publico se reencuentren con la obra “Pascua Florida”. Tres poemas más, encontrados en el archivo de los herederos de María Lejárraga, forman parte del presente cíclo: Nana del amor perdido, Yo sabía un cantar moro y Mañana de abril.

Con melodias depuradas y llenas de emoción, el compositor logra dar con el color de sus sonoridades, compaginándolo con rítmos que nos llegan de la tierra, el ambiente y sol andaluces, mostrando, tras 102 años de oscuridad, la intimidad de los protagonistas de este viaje por la Andalucía del 1915.

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“…me dejé imbuir por la musicalidad del propio poema que a veces hasta parecía dictarme la melodía.” Miquel Ortega

Pascua Florida
Música: Miquel Ortega Letra: María Lejárraga

Jardín venenoso Descanso en San Nicolás Tinieblas en el convento Noche estrellada mirando a Gibraltar Nana del amor perdido Yo sabía un cantar moro Cádiz se ha echado a navegar Mañana de abril

Bibliografía
Gallego, Antonio. “Pascua Florida: Un proyecto poético de María Lejárraga para Manuel de Falla.” Revista Atlántica Poesía, 11 (1996): 33-55.

Luz, González Peña María. Música y músicos en la vida de María Lejárraga. Logroño: Instituto de Estudios Riojanos, 2009.

Webber, Chr. “María and Gregorio Martínez Sierra.” = Zarzuela.net. N.p.,n.d.Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Sierra, María Martínez, y Alda Blanco. Gregorio y yo: medio siglo de colaboración. Valencia: Pre-Textos, 2000.

Miquel Ortega (Barcelona,1963) es pianista, director de orquesta y compositor. Formado en el Conservatorio del Liceo, amplió sus estudios con Manuel Oltra y Antoni Ros Marbà. Como director ha dedicado una atención especial al mundo de la ópera y la zarzuela.

Ha estrenado títulos como La celestina, de Joaquim Nin-Culmell (2008), Dalí, de Xavier Benguerel (2011), y ha dirigido a los teatros del Liceo, la Zarzuela, Teatro Real de Madrid, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Capitole de Toulouse y Covent Garden, entre otros.

Es autor de la ópera La casa de Bernarda Alba (2007), el ballet Bestiario (2002-09) y el cuento musical El niño y la creación del mundo, estrenado en el Teatro Real de Madrid en enero del 2012. La casa de Bernarda Alba se estrenó en Brasov (Rumanía) en 2007 y posteriormente, en 2009, la obra tuvo su estreno en España en los Festivales Internacionales de Santander y Perelada.

Ortega es hoy en día uno de los directores españoles de su generación más apreciados en el campo operístico. Ha dirigido, entre otros, en el Gran Teatre del Liceu y el Palau de la Música de Barcelona, en el Teatro Real, Teatro de la Zarzuela y Auditorio Nacional de Música de Madrid, en el Kennedy Center de Washington, Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, Lindbury Studium de la Royal Opera House, Covent Garden de Londres, King’s Theater de Edimburgo, etc.

Su actividad como compositor también tiene a la voz como elemento principal, y muchos cantantes de la actualidad tienen en repertorio algunas de sus canciones; el tenor argentino Luis Lima, el barítono español Carlos Álvarez (que ha grabado bajo la dirección del propio autor cuatro de sus canciones) y las sopranos españolas Montserrat Caballé y Ainhoa Arteta, entre otros. Su producción comprende además, obras de cámara, sinfónicas y óperas.

Su estilo, de carácter mediterráneo, se distingue por su facilidad para la melodía y el uso de la tonalidad y la modalidad, preferentemente, con incursiones politonales y atonales esporádicas.

KAIDAN, promoción y comunicación Blanca Gutiérrez Cardona Tfo: 625 89 93 71 blancagutierrezcardona@gmail.com

“Tu Eternidad” a song for voice and guitar by Ecuadorian composer, Diego Luzuriaga

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“Tu Eternidad” a song for voice and guitar by Ecuadorian composer, Diego Luzuriaga
      While putting our program together for “Belleza de las Américas” for voice and guitar, I looked over a piece of music I had received as a comp copy from Oxford University Press many years ago. They were simple but beautiful songs by the Ecuadorian composer
Diego Luzuriaga. I  messaged the maestro via email  this past fall to ask about his complete cycle for voice and guitar from where the songs came from,  Eleven Songs, composed to his own text. He answered right away and we talked about the work. The cycle is out of print and not obtainable, although it can be checked out from the NY Public Library. I would say the texts are unified by a sort of celebration of life:  a lullaby for the birth of his son, hope in the future as well songs that are set to a kind of romantic poetry, with imagery that is heartfelt and with the smell of  earth. All the songs were recorded by soprano Dana Hanchard (I purchased this CD via Amazon), in which Ms. Hanchard performs these ballads in a  frank and personal manner.
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Diego Luzuriaga

I showed the songs to guitarist Francisco Roldán, and he suggested we work on “Tu eternidad”;  we started to develop the piece for our next performance in Long Island this past fall. The composer writes on the score the word “pasillo”, to give us a clue as to the affect of the song. The “pasillo” is a prevalent 3/4 meter and dance step that can be found in many South American countries. The words are simple, forthright but sensual; here is my hasty English translation of this song:

Your Eternity
Inside the wind I will find your voice,
following the path of my days in the sun
and in high nights, with my singing voice.
 I will find your warm clarity
and your fresh cool hands…
Climbing near the rivers, the fog and forests,
I will find your breast, your pulse and your shadow,
I will find your breath and the eternal you
      We worked the song to find its natural arches and climaxes, and for me to find a way to say these words in the most natural way possible.  We performed the song at least once in the original guitar and voice. I afterwards was thinking of ways to include another South American dance in the off shoot of “Bellezas de las Américas”, the project “Alegría Hispana“, which is comprised of the  Latin American songs that Francisco and myself perform, but with the inclusion of the art of Spanish dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera.  The program as it stood had several dances from Spain and only one from the Americas ( a habanera “La paloma” by Sebastian Yradier).  In order to add more of South American dance, I suggested that Elisabet try to interpret “Tu Eternidad” by Mstro. Luzuriaga with us.
      Elisabet’s specialty includes all the important dance genres of her native Spain (regional folkore, Andalusian flamenco as well as the sophisticated and suave 18th century Escuela bolera).  She willingly took the project up, listening to various different “pasillos” on Youtbe, as well as observing various dance shows, including interpretations by the National Ballet of Ecuador and street videos of this dance…she dabbled in Wikipedia as well as  online documentaries to learn about the birth of the “pasillo”, and the influence of the European waltz upon it.  She related that were two types of “pasillo”, a ballroom version and a popular street version. The costume she chose to  represent this piece included a blouse with high collar (very 19th century), with a full colonial style skirt.  Elisabet’s “pasillo” was a historical, sober and elegant depiction of “pasillo”.  We premiered this new creation this past summer for the Latin American Cultural Center in Queens.
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Spanish dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera, guitarist Francisco Roldan and mezzo soprano Anna Tonna at the Tropicalia Hall, performing “Alegria Hispana” for the Latin American Cultural Center of Queens. Phot credit:  H. Stephen Brown

      This coming Sunday December 11th 2016, we will do “Alegria Hispana” once more, and we interpret this beautiful version for voice, guitar and dancer of Diego Luzuriaga’s 
“Tu Eternidad“, in Huntington (Long Island) at 2:30 pm; free admission. Presented by the South Huntington Public Library (located at 145 Pidgeon Hill Road).  For more information, please call 631-549-4411, or check out our Facebook Page Bellezas de las Americas.
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“A Granados Celebration”: Uniting artists from Spain and New York City for the Granados Centennial

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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:

iberianmusic@gc.cuny.edu

 

For more information on the Enrique Granados Centennial, please see: http://www.granados100.com/

 

The mysteries of the human heart…”Me acerco, y me retiro”: a musical setting of a poem by Sor Juana de la Cruz by composer Max Lifchitz

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I was asked by the pianist and composer Max Lifchitz to participate once more in a concert dedicated to the classical composers of Mexico for the annual “Cinco de Mayo Celebration” vocal concert presented by North South Consonance.  The concert will take place on Sunday May 3, 2015  at 3 PM at the Christ and St. Stephen’s church in NYC.  I had the idea of asking my colleague, contralto Celeste Mann to join me in the vocal recital in order to make the occasion more celebratory.  I also suggested that Max compose a new piece for piano and two female voices for us to debut at this concert.

Celeste and I left the choice of text up to the composer, and were intrigued to find that he had chosen a poem by the Mexican nun, writer and poet Sor Juana de la Cruz (1651-1695) from what is considered her “Lesbian Love Poetry” canon, “Me acerco, y  me retiro”.

Me acerco y me retiro:
¿quién sino yo hallar puedo
a la ausencia en los ojos
la presencia en lo lejos?

Del desprecio de Filis,
infelice, me ausento.
¡Ay de aquel en quien es
aun pérdida el desprecio!

Tan atento la adoro
que, en el mal que padezco,
no siento sus rigores
tanto como el perderlos.

No pierdo, al partir, sólo
los bienes que poseo,
si en Filis, que no es mía,
pierdo lo que no pierdo.

¡Ay de quien un desdén
lograba tan atento,
que por no ser dolor
no se atrevió a ser premio!

Pues viendo, en mi destino,
preciso mi destierro,
me desdeñaba más
porque perdiera menos.

¡Ay! ¿Quién te enseño, Filis,
tan primoroso medio:
vedar a los desdenes
el traje del afecto?

A vivir ignorado
de tus luces, me ausento
donde ni aun mi mal sirva
a tu desdén de obsequio.

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Sor Juana de la Cruz

I had not read Sor Juana since my days in college, and was happy to look her up again…considered one of the finest exponents of Spain’s Golden Age of literature, as well as being considered the beginning of Mexican literature, Sor Juana’s independence, intellect, her cloistered life in which she was able to arrange for her cell to become a highly sought after salon attended by the intellectual elite of what was then Viceroyalty of Spain in Mexico, makes her a towering figure of Spanish letters as well as modern women’s gender studies and model for many women writers of Latin America.  The poem that Lifchitz chose is generally acknowledged as fruit of a “romantic” friendship (perhaps not a lesbian relationship as we would understand it in modern times, scholars suggest) that Sor Juana had with a Mexican countess.  Nevertheless, the text speaks of an intimate window for us to peak thru of Sor Juana’s experience of love, the push and pull of an emotional upheaval caused by the uncertainty of her friend’s feelings towards her.  The setting for two female voices creates the sensation that is familiar to me, of brain or heart speaking to itself, sometimes obsessively, questioning and in the end berating…

The setting includes passages of trumpet like exclamations in the higher voice with searing emotion; the contralto is set in a much lower range, sounding like a private mussing, a mumbled prayer almost. The choice to compose a setting for two female voices serves to accentuate a tone of an intense internal debate…Sor Juana uses the pastoral poetry pseudonym of “Fillis”, as not to disclose the real identity of the lady in question.  Preceded by a dramatic piano introduction, the composer sets the stage for the dramatic soliloquy for two female voices to unfold.

I asked Max Lifchitz to write a few words about the piece, I include here below:

“My musical setting attempts to both capture and portray the melancholic feelings of exasperation and resignation evident in Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s poetic lines. Her poem  “Me acerco y me retiro” (I approach and withdraw) clearly deals with unrequited love and expresses deep feelings of despondency and sadness over a lover’s disdain. A celebrity during her lifetime, Sor Juana (1651-1695)  came to new prominence in the late 20th century with the rise of feminism and women’s writing, officially being credited as the first published feminist of the New World.
 
I approached the writing of the duet with unusual trepidation and anxiety. Dealing with a poem by one of Mexico’s most revered intellectuals inspired me to juxtapose old-fashioned sounding harmonies with more present-day constructs. It also stirred me to compose lengthy piano interludes hoping to provide an adequate musical commentary to the multiple emotions and shadings implied in the poetry. I also exercised extreme caution and respect denoting the poetry’s sapphic meter with its many starts and stops. Overall, I sought to enhance the forcefulness and urgency of Sor Juana’s poetry.”
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Composer Max Lifchitz

The word premiere of “Me acerco, y me retiro” by Max Lifchitz will take place on Sunday May 3, 2015 at 3 PM, as part of the Cinco de Mayo Celebration concert of vocal music by classical composers of Mexico at the Christ and St. Stephen’s Church in Manhattan, located at 120 W. 69th Street.  Included in this vocal concert are songs by Manuel Ponce, Rodolfo Halffter, Salvador Moreno and Maria Grever.
May 3 Revised 4 (2)

“Belleza de las Américas” for NYC: a concert for voice and guitar on Friday, February 20 at El Taller Latino in Manhattan

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I’ve been working on a guitar and voice concert by composers from the Americas for the past several years.  The project began when I was approached by an American guitarist living in Madrid — Keith Rodriguez.  We put together a presentation for a benefit concert for a non-profit group  (CESAL) that raised funds for Haiti.  I found songs by the Haitian composer Frantz Casseus which became part of the program.  The program also included negro spirituals arranged by Rodney Stucky, American colonial-era songs arranged by Carlos Barbosa-Lima, as well as songs that I had developed many years before by Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos and others.  This concert eventually became known as “Belleza de las Américas”, a Pan-American program of composers from both the North and Latin Americas.

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Francisco and I at Centro Cultural Civico Dominicano in Manhattan a couple of years ago, doing Dominican songs.

Yet this project really had its origin in the early 2000s, when I began to present concerts with Colombian guitarist Francisco Roldán here in NYC.  Our first venture together was a concert in the former CAMI Hall, in which we mixed European and Latin American songs for voice and guitar.  We continued to concertize together for more than five years doing projects, including a concert dedicated to Isaac Albéniz for the Puffin Foundation in NJ, as well as a wonderful project that highlighted the compositions of Dominican composer Rafael “Bullumba” Landestoy with our pianist friend Alexander Wu.

After several years, we are reuniting to do a concert at NYC’s El Taller Latino Americano on February 20th, 2015 and our reunion comes about in a curious way:  this past year I have been devoted to a recording project that friends and family know about, “España alla Rossini”.  The disc relates the dance and musical culture of mid 19th century Spain with the chamber music of songs of Gioacchino Rossini. I recorded the disc in Segovia (Spain) this past year, and it’s set to come out in April of 2015.  I ran a crowd funding campaign on Hatchfund to help pay for the expenses.  One of my benefactors is John Kordel Juliano, a lover of Spanish culture; his generous contribution came with a gift of thanks from me:  a live concert for voice and guitar on the date and place of his choice.

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Me singing España alla Rossini at the Museo del Romanticismo in Madrid (Spain) last summer.

The prize/concert is a NYC version of Belleza de las Américas.  Calling upon my old friendship with Francisco, we have devised a repertoire that includes most things in the version of this concert that I do in Spain with my friend Keith Rodriguez:

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REPERTOIRE FOR BELLEZA DE LAS AMÉRICAS, A CONCERT FOR VOICE AND GUITAR
Anna Tonna, mezzo soprano and Francisco Roldán, guitar

Friday February 20, 2015 at 7 PM at

El Taller Latino Americano

The first four songs of Seis poemas arcaicos by Manuel Ponce, arranged for voice and guitar by Gregg Nestor that uses the Cancionero de Palacio:  Mas quiero morir; Zagaleja del Casar; De las sierra; Sol, sol, gi, gi.

Four songs by Ernesto Cordero: Madrugada, Hija del viejo Pancho, Zenobia and Viaje Definivo

Dos canciones by Cuban composer  Leo Brouwer on Lorca texts

Where is fancy bred by Elliot Carter

Modinha by Heitor Villa Lobos

Excerpts from Five Negro Spirituals, arranged for voice and guitar by Rodney Stucky: Little David Play On Your Harp; Give me Jesus; Deep River

A ti… , song by Colombia’s Jaime León, arranged for voice and guitar by Francisco Roldán

Verano porteño as a guitar solo, by Astor Piazzolla

Come join us for “Belleza de las Américas”

at El Taller Latino Americano, located at 225 W. 99th Street Manhattan

Friday, February 20, 7 PM

Free admission

http://tallerlatino.org/Events.php

“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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