Amaia Arberas and Virginia Herrera
Amaia Arberas and Virginia Herrera sing ‘Niñas que a vender flores’ (Barbieri: Los Diamantes de la Corona) at El Centro Español de Queens in NYC

Zarzuela: Passion, Art, Fire
Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra, c. Jorge Parodi

12 October, 2014
Centro Español de Queens, New York City
reviewed by Anna Tonna

[ Ed. is especially delighted to welcome the distinguished American mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna to our review team ]

Zarzuela returns to New York City

On Sunday October 12, 2014 the Centro Español de Queens in New York City, in collaboration with the Spanish soprano Amaia Arberas presented a concert with singers and chamber orchestra, led by the Argentinean conductor Jorge Parodi, entitled Zarzuela: Passion, Art, Fire. Located in Astoria NY, just outside of Manhattan, Centro Español de Queens boasts a medium sized theatre with a generous proscenium stage; filling up the audience space to capacity, the concert played to well over 250 patrons, mostly Spanish speakers, and many of them zarzuela fans who hummed or tapped along with the singers and orchestra.

With no permanent entity in New York City to produce zarzuela, save the once a year concert produced by the tireless association of Los amigos de la Zarzuela in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie every autumn, the absence of the once thriving zarzuela seasons offered in the past by Teatro Thalia and the Repertorio Español (as well as the old zarzuela company in Union City, New Jersey) has left a vacuum for lovers of the genre in the Greater New York City Metropolitan area. As evidenced by the showing at this concert, zarzuela and music lovers in the large Hispanic community would welcome with open arms concert performances and fully staged zarzuelas in the great city of New York once more.

The concept of the show was the antología style, showcasing gems from zarzuela’s most well-known solos, ensembles and orchestral preludes. Within this framework, the stage was set as a contemporary bar lounge, complete with a bartender personified by the Spanish actor and New York City resident Rafael Abolafía, and presided over by Maestro Jorge Parodi, who expertly lead the Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra. Although the famous orchestral prelude to La revoltosa got off to somewhat soft start from the brass section, the orchestra found its sea legs by the time it arrived at the difficult scenes from Sorozábal’s La tabernera del puerto; and they played the vivacious and crisp rhythms of the ensemble numbers from Barbiere’s El barberillo de Lavapiés as if they had been doing so all their lives. The orchestral reduction left nothing out of the familiar counterpoints and melodies from the pit – not an easy task for the arranger, given zarzuela’s usually dense late romantic orchestrations. Some numbers were given with piano accompaniment by Ainhoa Urkijo.

The cast was a mix of Spanish and Latin American singers residing in New York City – sopranos Amaia Arberas (a native of San Sebastián, País Vasco, Spain) and Virginia Herrera (Mexico); tenors César Delgado (Mexico), Hamid Rodríguez (Puerto Rico) and Antón Armendríz (Spain); and the bass Eliam Ramos (Puerto Rico). The stage direction and dialogue, which was a mix of the standard librettos and newly written scripts, was executed by Armendríz, who in his native La rioja leads the company Asociación Rioja Lírica. Under his direction the varied scenes were performed in modern dress, with stage scenery and in revista (revue) style, and with minimal plot and dialogue to bind the numbers together. All were golden nuggets of the repertoire – the men’s trio from La tabernera del puerto, the romanza ‘No puede ser’ with Rodriguez’s dark and robust tenor; the bolero from Los diamantes de la corona beautifully sung by Arberas and Herrera in a novel staging; Ramos’s lyrical bass voice and acting was especially highlighted in ‘Despierta Negro’ from La tabernera… as well as a sensitive reading of Santi’s romanza from El caserío.

Cesar DelgadoHerrera’s gorgeous lyric soprano proved effective both in comedy and tragedy, evidenced in her passionate reading of both dialogue and aria from Lecuona’s Maria la O, and the illiterate Pilar’s touching romanza de la carta from Caballero’s Gigantes y Cabezudos. Arberas featured the famous numbers for tiple from Las hijas del Zebedeo, Marina as well as the celebrated zapateado from La tempranica. Her cleanly emitted silver soubrette was well suited to the light and comical numbers of the evening; and the personification of Paloma in the excerpts from El Barberillo de Lavapiés provided some of her best moments, as she exuded charm and confidence in a role for which she is ideal. Her duet ‘Este pañuelito blanco’ from Torroba’s La chulapona marked the first entrance of Delgado’s well-moulded and beautiful lyric tenor voice, which is ideally suited to the this composer’s very full  orchestration. The performance of this duet crackled with excitement, as did Delgado’s performance with Herrera in the Javier/Carolina duet from Luisa Fernanda. The stagings of both duets was sensual, seductive and playful.

The evening’s stage director Armendríz is a character tenor, and his snappy dialogue and manner as Lamparilla in El barberillo de Lavapiés added wonderfully to the mixture. Arberas and Armendríz were the driving force dramatically, and their authentic Spanish accents and late 19th century madrileño idioms and mannerisms brought an element of great authenticity to the evening.

It is to be hoped that more performances like this will follow from El Centro Español de Queens. The seemingly endless flow of singers from Latin countries coming to reside in New York City makes the lack of regular performances of zarzuela baffling. I await eagerly whatever the next season will bring, from this young, new troupe who are championing the genre in NYC.

© Anna Tonna and, 2014

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