United States Various: Sabina Puértolas (soprano), Javier Perianes (piano), Orchestra of the Teatro Real / Juanjo Mena (conductor). Carnegie Hall, New York, 15.9.2022. (RP)
Manuel de Falla – El sombrero de tres picos, Suites Nos.1&2; Noches en los jardines de España; La vida breve, Interlude & Dance No.1
Isaac Albéniz – Iberia, Book I, ‘El Puerto’ & ‘Evocación’, and Book II, ‘Triana’ (orch. Enrique Fernández Arbós)
Amadeu Vives – ‘Canción del ruiseñor’ (from Doña Francisquita)
Pablo Sorozábal – ‘En un país de fabula’ (from La tabernera del puerto)
Federico Chueca – Prelude (from El bateo)
Gerónimo Giménez & Miguel Nieto – ‘Me llaman la primorosa’ (from El barbero de Sevilla)
The Orchestra of the Teatro Real in Madrid performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time in its history on 15 September. Founded by King Ferdinand VII in 1818, the Teatro Real, which houses Spain’s acclaimed national opera company, opened in 1850. Dark for over forty years in the mid-twentieth century, the opera house reopened in 1966. A major renovation, which was completed in 1997, restored the theater to its prior glory. In 2021, it was recognized as the Best International Opera Company by International Opera Awards.
This was more than a celebration of Spanish culture, however, as the gala concert commemorated the fortieth anniversary of Madrid and New York becoming sister cities. Queen Sophia of Spain headed the delegation of notables attending the concert. The Queen lives in the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid; the Spanish genre of musical drama originated in its theater. Naturally, music from some of the most popular zarzuelas was featured in the concert.
If the orchestra had been a stranger to New York, that was not the case with its conductor for the evening, Juanjo Mena. One of Spain’s leading conductors, Mena made his North American conducting debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Since then, he has appeared with most major American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.
It was an evening of melodies, rhythms, musical color and drama that is synonymous with Spanish music. The music, however, also sheds light on Spain’s complex struggle to become a modern country founded on the principles of liberalism and capitalism. Manuel de Falla and Isaac Albéniz, near contemporaries and two of the country’s most important composers, had to leave home to pursue their creative impulses. Zarzuela thrived, however, as its creators hewed to politically-approved stories of poor but honest people who face daily difficulties with a sense of humor and, often, resignation.
Falla’s music coursed through the concert as did the music and atmosphere of his beloved Andalusia. The two suites which he extracted from El sombrero de tres picos opened the concert. The audience was also treated to the far more exotic Noches en los jardines de España, as well as the Interlude and Dance from his opera La Vida Breve.
Pianist Javier Perianes made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2015 and returned to its stage in 2019. At this concert, he performed as soloist in three selections from Albéniz’s Iberia in orchestral arrangements by the composer’s friend Enrique Fernández Arbós. The piano suite is thought to be the composer’s greatest work; Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen considered Iberia the best piano work of the twentieth century. Perianes exudes serenity when seated at the piano which, coupled with his formidable technique, enabled him to dispatch the technical demands of the three selections with ease, and to infuse them with lightness and brilliance.
Sabina Puértolas has appeared in opera and oratorio in Europe and the United States, as well as zarzuela in her native Spain. The soprano took advantage of a brief orchestra interlude to switch gowns, transforming herself from demure to glamorous. Vocally, she was equally alluring with her silvery voice and effortless coloratura turning words and music into emotion. A highlight was Puértolas imitating the sound of a nightingale with pinpoint accuracy to xylophone accompaniment in an aria from Amadeu Vives’s Doña Francisquita.
Two encores followed. In the first, Puértolas returned to the stage to dazzle in ‘Carceleras’ from Las hijas del zebedeo by Ruperto Chapí. The orchestra then played the rousing Interlude from La Boda de Luis Alonso by Gerónimo Giménez. It’s a showcase for brass and percussion that ended the evening with equal parts style, fun and exuberance.
This was an occasion to showcase for the Orchestra of the Teatro Real and shine it did. Superb musicianship was to be expected, but what made the concert special was their obvious love of the music and their delight in sharing it with a new audience.