¨POUR ELISE¨: Opera ‘light’

A man walks out and sits down. He begins to riff on an acordion. Other musicians come on stage with their instruments– a bass, a violin. The percussionist sits down at the drums. A white digital piano–a miniature baby grand, stands downstage in the corner. What next?

Having only seen one Brazilian musical before (a revival of Chiquinha Gonzaga’s FORROBODÓ last year in Rio de Janeiro), I really did not know what to expect from POUR ELISE–other than some kind of rendition of Beethoven’s masterpiece, FÜR ELISE, some time during the play. FÜR ELISE is a favorite piece given to any young pianist, and is easily recognized by most classical trained musicians. For sure it evokes romance and longing and all of the drama that we think of when we think of Beethoven.

Cláudio Goldman, the composer of this musical, weaves the musical leitmotiv, based on Beethoven’s piece, into a tightly knit narrative based on his grandparents’ lives.  Elise is a singer and Sbig a pianist. They meet in Poland before World War 2 and later in Brazil, where they are united. Elise is Sbig’s true love. Throughout the musical, we hear some of opera’s top hits.  They are performed either with the original lyrics in Italian, or with Portuguese adaptations which fit the storyline.

Although the opera excerpts do work in this story, it is funny to experience them because they invoke the originals, and the contrasts with Sbig and Elise are not quite what those composers had in mind. For example, the Duke in RIGOLETTO, who sings ‘La donna é mobile¨is a carefree playboy who loves seducing women.  The Don Giovanni of ¨La ci darem la mano¨ in DON GIOVANNI, shamelessly brags about being the worse cad in opera who has ravished hundreds of innocent damsels across Spain. Zerlina, with whom he sings the duet, is a naive country girl he is bent on having. Considering that Sbig is never portrayed as a ladies man,  it is ironic (and almost ridiculous) that he invokes these characters. In addition, ¨La donna é mobile¨ is used when Elise dumps him and returns to her husband. He is the victim in this case, not the woman. Elise is portrayed as a worldly woman and she is the one who is married and having an affair with Sbig. The ¨ Brindisi¨ (Libiamo) from La Traviata is also sung in POUR ELISE, as well as the enigmatic Gynomopedie by Satie, another ‘greatest hit’ of Western art music . Goldman adds Portuguese lyrics to this, which he sings quite poignantly.

The play is very tongue in cheek and you just cannot take it seriously. Elise is portrayed as an absolute caricature until the very end, when she is dying. All of a sudden she becomes a real person. This is an interesting dramatic choice. Is the rest of her performance/characterization, just a memory, therefore the stylization–is it her parting that is so precious and heartbreaking for Sbig, that the way Elise is presented must be transformed to drive the point home?

In addition to this musical montage, there are projections onto a screen, which serve as backdrop, set and character. Visions of war, as well as clips and/or references to films such as CASABLANCA, SCHINDLER’S LIST and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK are made.  If you know these movies and the operas, this musical is a lot of fun. The older Sbig, breaks the 4th wall and speaks to the audience as narrator, recounting his past. Cláudio Goldman plays the younger Sbig, and he shows remarkable versatility with the opera selections and the more popular music of the show.fur elise

If one is not that familiar with the music, POUR ELISE provides a ‘taste’ of opera without the grandiosity of a full orchestra, stratospheric high notes (all the soprano’s parts are transposed down), ears being pinned back by the sound (it is all artificially amplified) or 3-4 hours trying to understand a foreign language.

Kudos to Mr. Goldman and Flavio de Souza for blending the erudite and popular, and serving it up in one hour full of laughs, yet with reverence for the immigrant and Jewish experience.

See POUR ELISE: Um amor inesquecível at Teatro Folha at Shopping Higienópolis. http://patiohigienopolis.com.br/teatro/78-pour-elise

Advertisements

Ainadamar: Breaking the Spanish Silence

Some 80 years ago Spain was being torn to shreds from within. The Spanish Civil war, of 1936, saw the deaths of many, including Federico Garcia Lorca, probably the most important playwright since the Golden Age’s Calderon de la Barca. Lorca was shot by the Falange, along with thousands of others, and thrown into an unmarked grave in Granada. For years Spaniards have keep silent about these crimes (on both sides). It is only in the 21st century, a generation after Franco died, that the silence has been broken.

Novels about the “disappeared”, demands for the exhumation of bodies, and actual public discussion about the Franco era, started to emerge over the last 12 years. Curiously, the composer of Ainadamar, which is about Lorca’s execution, told from the perspective of his friend/colleague, Margarita Xingu, hails from another country in which dissidents were disappeared and children given away. Osvaldo Golijov does not choose to compose or write about Argentina, but about Spain, and specifically about Lorca. He personalizes this tragedy by focusing on Lorca, but this is the story of many, and it’s about time that the world hears it.

Ainadamar, in the Opera Philadelphia production (originally mounted in Granada, Spain), is a tightly woven musical, dance and theatrical experience. The set and the projected video and stills greatly enhance and complement the score. Most of the cast comes from Spain, and the passion and spirit shines through. This is of cultural and historical significance—this generation of singers and dancers were not under Franco’s rule—yet they are able to participate in a retelling of Lorca’s execution as if they were present. Their bodies and voices resonate with Lorca and their countrymen’s memories.

Vocal highlights of this performance are María Hinojosa Montenegro, who sang Margarita Xingu, and Alfredo Tejada, the flamenco singer. Ms. Hinojosa voice has a rich and beautiful timbre, and her singing is clear and strong throughout. (Of note, the Spanish singers were amplified, something that is not quite acceptable in American opera houses). In addition, Ms. Hinojosa is especially adept at coloring her voice to reflect the necessary emotion. The cante jondo by Afredo Tejada is spectacular and really brings a raw Andalusian/ gypsy feel to the piece. A stunning scene is the death – in which the gunshots contribute to the rhythm of a dance of zapateado. Spanish music, popular and classical, has always been about rhythm, about dance. Underlying the lyricism of this opera, the rhythm of Andalusia pulsates in the dancers’ feet and in the percussion in the orchestra.

Golijov depicts an imaginary Granada, an Ainadamar, through tone, while the production team uses old newspaper articles, photos of Lorca and friends, and videos of nature to set the backdrop of the drama. The physical scene and the music are not the Granada one visits in Spain, where the blend of Byzantium and mozarabe meet, in centuries old romantic architecture, inhabited by both royal and ordinary ghosts and 21st century folks, but Golijov’s interpretation. Nevertheless, it works. There is a tension from the opening number, in which 5 female dancers in pink/purple dresses dance in front of the stones that are soon covered with water—symbolizing the fountain of tears. This same montage is repeated at the end of the opera, marking the end of this journey through Margarita Xingu’s memory and that of many unidentified Spaniards and their descendants. The silence has been broken.

“Maja: The Forgotten Woman” — a must see!

“Maja” is Spanish for a woman from Madrid. Spanish artist Francisco Goya is famous for his paintings of “majas.” The most celebrated ones are “La maja desnuda” (the nude maja) and the “la maja vestida,” (the clothed maja) Goya also painted a full-body picture of the 13th Duchess of Alba, María Cayetana de Silva, with whom he was having an affair. Many assume that she posed for the maja paintings. Watch the video below for some samples of Goya’s paintings, and Granado’s musical selection La maja de Goya.

Enrique Granados, a Spanish pianist and composer,  is most famous for his work Goyescas, which is based on Goya’s paintings. However, he was not the only one to compose about la maja. Ricardo Villa (Canción de la maja for voice and piano) and José Padilla, with Oliveros and Castellvi, (La maja, el rey y el torero) also wrote songs about la maja. The character of  la maja is typical in Spanish zarzuelas (operettas) about Madrid. Listen to Padilla’s composition on youtube:

Anna Bartos, an experienced soprano, presents MAJA! THE FORGOTTEN WOMAN: A LOVER’S TALE. This is a one-woman musical not to be missed. It tackles the mystique surrounding Goya, his artwork, his loves, and the craziness occurring during that time.

Ms. Bartos describes it as “a love story about the life and work of the famous Spanish painter, Francisco Jose Goya y Lucientes, and his bittersweet romance with an unknown maja in 19th century Madrid. It is in English with many Spanish expressions, and illuminates the life and character of Goya and the picaresque lower middle class majos and majas he loved, painted and imitated. The drama also provides details about his dedication to depict human rights issues and atrocities against the common man, for which he paid the price of exile.”

MajaFlyerLarge-Revised_v4

This performance is a fundraiser for SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT. This is a collaborative, non-profit group, for singers, actors and instrumentalists. http://www.meetup.com/SOMETHING-TO-SING-ABOUT-IN-NEW-YORK/

Tax Deductible Contributions may be made at:

http://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=5865

Don’t miss this innovative period piece:

  • Sunday, November 3, 2013. 4:00-6:00 pm
  • St. Michael’s Church: 225 W. 99th Street Manhattan

General admission: $20

Something to Sing About members, Seniors and Students JUST $10!

MORE ABOUT ANNA BARTOS: 

Anna Bartos, Soprano, is renowned for her bel canto operatic roles and her poignant and exciting interpretations of Spanish and Latin American music. She received a grant from the Spanish Consulate in New York City and the non-profit sponsorship of the New York Foundation for the Arts for her original one-woman musical drama, Maja! The Forgotten Woman: A Lovers’ Tale about Francisco Goya, with music by Enrique Granados. Her recordings include Cantares for Soprano and Guitar and You Must Remember This II with Gregg Nestor, and Mostly Spanish with The Ensemble ALMA,  which she founded in 1998, now known as Flor y Canto. Flor y Canto presents concerts of over four centuries of music, lecture-recitals and master classes of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American classical and folk music, as well as an international repertoire, for voice, piano, flute, guitar and other instruments. Ms. Bartos has been a featured artist at festivals, i.e., the Leningrad Musical Spring International Festival in Russia, The Performing Arts of Asia and Mexico Festivals at Lincoln Center and the Franco-Italian Festival at Carnegie Hall. She has appeared as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic,Leningrad Chamber Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfonica de Guadalajara, and the NYU Chamber Music Society at Merkin Concert Hall, among others. She has given numerous lecture-recitals in colleges and universities on Spanish and Latin American music, and was an Artist in Residence at Altos de Chavon in the Dominican Republic (a Gulf and Western Project). Ms. Bartos holds an M.A. in Vocal Performance from New York University, and maintains a private vocal studio in New York City.

___Solo Recital, Teatro Casa de la Paz
: MUSICA–EXCELLENT SINGER…”beautiful singing…mastery of vocal technique…
Her interpretations embraced a variety of styles with great success. She soared to unsuspected heights of emotion and expression in the lieder of Schubert and Ravel. Manuel M. Ponce and ‘Tata Nacho’ were magnificently interpreted!” –REVISTA TIEMPO (Mexico City)

CHECK OUT THE FILM, GOYA IN BORDEAUX:

Seguindo os Passos da Chiquinha Gonzaga/ On the Chinquinha Gonzaga Trail! (Portuguese with English Translation)

Quando cheguei no Rio de Janeiro no dia 11 de agosto de 2013, depois de uma semana no antigo Ouro Preto, sinceramente, tinha esquecido do meu propósito original da viagem—para pesquisar mais sobre Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga e explorar as partes da cidade que ela conhecia durante sua longa vida. Porém, o meu professor de escrita, o Paulo, me lembrou direitinho da minha motivação de etnografia musical.

Recém-chegada em sua casa, estava conversando com ele e sua vizinha, Cecilia.  Falamos sobre a vida e a música de Chiquinha. Curiosamente, Cecilia era atriz de teatro e trabalhava na SBAT, Sociedade Brasileira de Autores Teatrais, organização fundada por Chiquinha Gonzaga. Além de convidar-nos para visitar a SBAT no dia seguinte, Cecilia ligou para sua amiga Edinha Diniz. Ela é a mais recente biógrafa de Chiquinha Gonzaga.  Cecilia e ela tinham ido ao teatro juntas esse mesmo dia! Eu li dois dos seus livros e me senti honrada de ter a oportunidade de falar com ela.

Durante a semana, segui um roteiro que me levaria para o que restava do Rio de Janeiro que Chiquinha conheceu e para lugares modernos que mantêm ou divulgam sua obra. A apropriada culminação deste “passeio” pelo tempo e espaço foi assistir à ótima apresentação de “Forrobodó” no 17 de agosto de 2013. Apreciar a peça teatral mais famosa e bem sucedida da maestrina foi a maneira perfeita de vivenciar e encarnar o espírito de Chiquinha – através da sonoridade da sua composição musical e o humor da revista no palco. Nesta moderna versão de Forrobodó, representavam-se fiel o carioca contemporâneo e o seu antepassado do Rio do Belle Époque.

A continuação — fotos do roteiro! 

English Translation: 

When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2013, after a week in old Ouro Preto, I had actually forgotten my original purpose for the trip–to research about Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga, and explore the parts of the city that she would have known during her long life. However, my writing teacher, Paulo, immediately reminded me about my ethnomusicologist motivation.

Soon after getting to his home, I was speaking with him and his neighbor, Cecilia. We spoke about Chiquinha’s life and music. Curiously, Cecilia is a stage actress and works at SBAT, the Brazilian Society for Theatrical Authors, which was founded by Chiquinha Gonzaga. In addition to inviting us to visit SBAT the next day, Cecilia telephoned her friend Edinha Diniz, the most recent biographer of Chiquinha. She and Cecilia had just gone to the theatre together that very day! I had read two of Diniz’s books and I felt honored to have the opportunity to converse with her.

During the week, I followed an itinerary that showed me what was left of the Rio de Janeiro that Chiquinha would have been familiar with, and also modern sites that maintain or divulge her work. The culmination of this excursion through time and space was to attend the excellent performance of FORROBODÓ on August 17, 2013 FORROBODÓ is Chiquinha’s most famous and most successful musical. . It was the perfect way to live and incarnate her spirit — by way of the sonority of her musical composition, and the comedy happening on stage in the musical review. In this modern version of FORROBODÓ, the contemporary “carioca” (Rio dweller) and the his/her ancestors from the Belle Epoque were well interpreted.

Forthcoming: photos of the Chiquinha trail! 

Art Imitates Art: “La nuit espagnole” in Lower Manhattan

A small group of artists decided to run with the concept of multimedia performance in a show called “La nuit espagnole: Flamenco and the Spanish Vanguard” in the Between The Seas Festival in Lower East Side Manhattan (DROM) on July 24, 2013.

I attended virtually from my laptop since it was streamed live. This was not equal to witnessing this event live since the image was blurry and it was hard to see some of the performers’ expressions. They also did not capture the projections of art work on which this mélange was based. However, the sound was quite good.

The show was an interpretation in music,  dance and images of the “La noche española” exhibition at the Reina Sofia in Madrid from December 2007- March 2008. (For more information on that exhibition:

http://www.museoreinasofia.es/exposiciones/noche-espanola-flamenco-vanguardia-cultura-popular-1865-1936 )

The performers for the evening were: Anna Tonna, a lovely mezzo-soprano, Rebeca Tomás, flamenco dancer, Anna de la Paz, dancer, María de los Angeles Rubio, pianist, Pedro Cortés, guitarist, and Barbara Martinez, flamenco singer.

The dancers were phenomenal. I studied flamenco in New York City, so I know how challenging it is to get your “roll” on the castanets and to coordinate arms and legs while playing an instrument. Unlike some other dances, feet do one thing and arms and hands do something else. It takes training to build up the muscles in the legs and feet. The feet function as another instrument, providing a contrasting rhythm, “zapateo” in the special flamenco shoes. Head, expression and carriage are extremely important to reflect a Spanish style and stance.

It was surprising to see a female dancer dressed in pants and vest, and dancing a farruca, which is traditionally danced by men. This reminded me how far Spain has come in bending traditional gender roles, from the Franco era. At that time women’s behavior was tightly modeled and controlled. Nowadays there are even female toreadores! (bullfighters).

IMG_0316

“Córdoba,” by Celeste Mann 2012

Both singers sang with gusto and technique and expression appropriate to their genres. Even though there was a mix of music—from popular/folk/flamenco to the opera/ballet of Manuel de Falla and the “Córdoba” of Albéniz, the music blended well from one number to the next. This attests to the very strong dance rhythms inherent in Spain’s musical traditions. De Falla was also inspired by popular/folk music (i.e. Siete Canciones Populares) and elements of “cante jondo” from flamenco singing are evident in his operas and ballets.

One can view the show at the DROM website. It won’t be live but it will give you a little taste of Spain, wherever you are! https://www.gander.tv/event/drom-medfest-2013-anna-tonna-724-715pm-9pm

Related Links:

http://spanishsongslinger.wordpress.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6ru59tLb-I (Julian Bream playing “Córdoba”)