Teatro Real 2022-23 Review: A Celebration of Spanish Music

Madrid’s Opera House Brings Passion & Elegance to Triumphant Carnegie Hall Debut

By Francisco Salazar

On Sept. 15, the Teatro Real de Madrid made history when it took the stage of Carnegie Hall for the first time in its history.

The concert, which was titled “A Celebration of Spanish Music First Gala Concert,” was in truth a celebration of a culture and its fiery and passionate spirit.

Falla & Albéniz

The concert opened with Falla’s “El Sombrero de Tres Picos Suite 1.” Conductor Juanjo Mena began the piece with slow strokes to his baton and the Orchestra of the Teatro Real responded with a calm piano sound, each of the sections slowly entering and adding their sound to the orchestral palette. The first movement “La Tarde” has some ironic melodies that were played with clarity by the bassoon and woodwinds. The next moment “Danza de la Molinera,” a fandango, was played with the Spanish flare and rhythmic precision. Meanwhile, “El Corregidor-La Esposa de molinero” had a more relaxed and tender sound that was enhanced by the flutes and the string trills. The piece ended with “Las Uvas,” which saw the orchestra playing with full sound. Mena brought out an adventurous side to his reading which made this writer think of a film score.

Pianist Javier Perianes was next on the program performing the famed “Noches en Los Jardines de España.” The piece is rich in its orchestration and its mysterious character. It is also a showcase for the pianist who must blend the various virtuosic roulades with the orchestra, something Perianes did quite virtuosically. His “En El Generalife” was filled with regal sound that employed elegance in his playing. Meanwhile, his “Danza Lejana” had a gentle aspect to it that he juxtaposed with strong forte sounds in many of the climatic moments. Then there were the articulate runs that interpreted with tenderness. In the final movement “En Los Jardines de la Sierra de Cordoba,” Perianes played with such grace that it seemed as if his hands were floating over the keys. One could see the pianist’s passion for the music grow as the movement developed. The orchestra was a great accompaniment as it never covered Perianes and instead enhanced his playing with bursts of sublime sound.

The final selection of the first half was Albéniz’s “Suite Iberia” in an orchestral arrangement. Mena opened the first movement “El Puerto” with a dance-like quality quickly bringing in the impressionistic sounds of the Spanish’s composer’s music. He enhanced the winds interludes and the rhythmic qualities in the string section. Then in “Evocacion” there was mystical quality to the sound of the harp, winds, and the higher range of the violins. The movement quality turned to passionate sounds as the orchestra crescendoed and then descrescendoed, bringing back that magical and sometimes mysterious aura. The third movement that Mena chose was “Triana” which brought a joyous and full sound in the orchestra as each section blended gorgeously. There was also a playfulness between the winds and the strings that soon erupted into excitement.

A Thrilling Soprano 

The second half of the program opened with the interlude and Spanish Dance of “La Vida Breve.” Mena drew the audience in with the mysterious opening which turned into a ravishing and joyous dance. The winds and the strings brought brightness of sound that blended beautifully with the castanets. The music was played with rhythmic precision and virtuosity.

Following the famed piece, soprano Sabina Puértolas performed her first selection, “La Cancion Ruiseñor” from “Doña Francisquita.” The soprano sounded a bit nervous with the timbre not completely warmed up. However, as the piece developed, and she entered her high range, the soprano displayed delicacy in the high tessitura. Each note rang with vibrancy and in the second verse, one could hear a much more solid middle with Puértolas caressing each legato line.

During her second piece of the evening, “En un pais de fabula” from “La Tabernera del Puerto,” Puértolas sang as if she were narrating a story with each phrase shaped differently. The diction was crystal clear, making it hard to miss a word. There was also ample flexibility as she shifted from her creamy middle voice into the upper register.  The high coloratura in this aria was also delicately executed and as she ended the aria, she ascended into a high note crescendoing from a piano to a forte.

The soprano took a quick break with the orchestra performing the prelude from “El Bateo.” This waltz-like piece showed off the brass section. Here, the orchestra was able to transition from one mood to the next with ease and precision.

Puértolas returned for a third piece, “Me llaman la primorosa” from “El barbero de Sevilla.” It’s a popular piece but often simply an empty showcase for sopranos who only find value in its bravura lines. Puértola’s more idiomatic approach was a veritable masterclass that aria has more to offer. The coloratura runs were clear and as she ascended into her higher range, she was also to make clear every word from the coquettish aria. Puértolas also played with the tempo starting with a fast allegro and then making playful ritardandos to emphasize certain words. Her cadenza was also outstanding as it demonstrated her virtuosic abilities and her ease with coloratura. Eliciting a standing ovation, the soprano added a final piece.

The piece was “Carceleras” from “Las hijas del Zebedeo.” Here Puértolas demonstrated a patter-like quality and a strong chest voice that was nonetheless less refined and sometimes guttural. However, that didn’t make it less vivid or engaging. Instead, it added to the excitement of what the Spanish soprano would do next. And in the second verse, in the middle of the fast passages, she held out notes stopping the orchestra and flirted with the musicians. These nuances added freshness to the music. Puértolas concluded the piece with an exciting sustained note that demonstrated the volume of her soprano. In all, she thrilled and in many ways was the stand out of the evening.

The final piece in the program was Falla’s “El Sombrero de Tres Picos Suite 2.” Unlike the first suite which opens slowly, this one opens with a Seguidilla, and Mena was able to accentuate the vibrancy of the dance rhythms. The second movement “Farruca” opened with a powerful brass fanfare that then transitioned into an equally virtuosic oboe solo. The strings then previewed some rich sound before going back to a gentle flute and wind solo. The contrasts between the fiery strings and the more tender winds and brass were quite striking and they created an element of mystery. That eventually led to the “Danza final” or “Jota” which was pure fire and passion filled with a luxurious sound that was accompanied by the castanets. The audience erupted with great emotion and Mena with joy added an encore.

That encore was the intermezzo from “La Boda de Luis Alonso.” The piece obtained a rousing standing ovation and audience members wanted more. Mena conducted with infectious energy moving on the podium and eliciting many smiles from his musicians. The orchestra itself performed the piece with joy and crescendoing energy, eventually coming to an end with incredible  booming sound that filled the hall. It was the perfect way to an evening that was already filled with so many highlights.

In all this was an unforgettable evening with a major takeaway.

Looking around, I noticed that the audience was full of members of the Hispanic and Latine community. It was not that dissimilar from a recital at Carnegie Hall a few years back starring tenor Juan Diego Flórez who performed a lot of music in Spanish. So it wasn’t surprise to hear that enthusiasm and excitement throughout the night. There is an audience that is craving Spanish music and Zarzuela. To see their culture celebrated in this fashion. It’s time to see more Spanish-language opera celebrated at the major arts institutions in NYC, especially those where it has never been given a chance.


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