2014–2015 Concert Series: “Purcell, Charpentier & ¡zarzuela!”
“Tempesta di Mare played with gusto … It was lovely to hear the period instruments”
“’Vengan las flores, el jazmín y la rosa,
la azucena, que a Juno, suprema deidad
del Olimpo, consagra del orbe
la más noble reina.’
(Bring forth the flowers, the jasmine and rose,
the white lily, dedicated by the world to Juno,
supreme goddess of Olympus,
the most noble queen.)
Sings Dido in the baroque zarzuela “Destinos vencen finezas” (Destiny Trumps your Vows), by Lorenzo de las Llamosas (Perú) and Juan Francisco de Navas (Spain). This bucolic aria, full of nature, describes the effect of each flower: jasmine, rose, carnation and the white lily. A far cry from the familiar aria “When I am Laid on Earth”, which occurs at the end of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, before Dido’s suicide. It is also quite different from the romanzas of the more familiar romantic zarzuela, which comes into full bloom in the late 19 and the early 20th century. Tempesta di mare includes a rendition of this zarzuela in its concert (sung by mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano) within a Western European baroque context. The concert, “Purcell, Charpentier and ¡zarzuela!” was presented at the Perelmann Hall in the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia on Saturday, March 7 at 8:00 pm. This baroque orchestra is to be commended for finding this piece, last performed in Madrid in 1699, and featuring it in this venue. Spanish music is slowly becoming more main stream in the United States in classical musical circles, but has been usually programmed alone as an anomaly, or alongside Latin American art music. Considering the era, this baroque zarzuela has more in common with baroque music from other European countries, than it does with later “romantic” zarzuelas and other well known Spanish pieces. The poetry in the baroque zarzuela is based on classical themes: gods and legends of antiquity, rather than folklore, local and national politics, and every day events. Two baroque zarzuelas that have been performed recently in staged productions are La púrpura de la rosa and Viento es la dicha de amor.
The regional dialects and dances of Spain, so prominent in the zarzuela grande and género chico are missing from Destinos. After 1492, with Castile and Aragón united, Granada conquered, and the Catholic Monarchs on a quest for exploration and expansion, it took some time before composers would insert strong and obvious reflections of regional identities. Flamenco, so employed in the work of Spain’s most famous musical son, Manuel de Falla, is not yet much of a factor in 1699. Although the Roma had settled in Iberia by the time this zarzuela was composed, the flamenco music was not heard much outside of Roma communities until the 1800s. On Saturday, Destinos vencen finezas, the final piece of the program, was sung by one singer, even though there are multiple characters in it. It is short and the singer handled the music well, so this concept worked. Ms. Montalbano took much care to differentiate the characters in her expression and acting. Her pronunciation did not include the [θ] for c and z, which was how people spoke in 1699 in Madrid. The librettist was Peruvian, so perhaps that entered into the pronunciation choice. She sang with conviction in baroque style and vocally was very consistent. The work has a lot of musical texture, created by the different instrumental parts, and the vocal line was part of that weave. I did miss a fuller and more multi-colored vocalism, but some would consider that inappropriate in baroque style. It was clear that Ms. Montalbano was passionate about this music and enjoyed performing it.
Tempesta di mare played with gusto during the zarzuela and the other selections, without a conductor waving a baton. Also characteristic of the baroque practice is that some of the instrumentalists play standing: violins, violas and winds. It was lovely to hear the period instruments including: the baroque recorders, harpsichord, viola da gamba, baroque guitars, violone and theorbos. Castanets were used in the zarzuela and additional percussion in other pieces.
Without the internet, this performance of Destinos vencen finezas, would likely have never taken place. They found the piece via internet and for centuries the score has languished in the National Library in Spain. This particular zarzuela has been written about in literary and theatrical studies, but how many scholars actually had any idea what it sounded like? (Even if they could read music, they probably were not musically trained enough to hear the orchestra, the full effect, in their inner ear). Over three hundred years after its debut, a new audience, new musicians, thousands of miles from Spain, experienced this discovery of an old work in Philadelphia.” Deslumbrar, March 10, 2015
“Tempesta di Mare … brought verve, grace, and spark to music that … always benefited from it.”
“Performing incidental music from a movie or play in concert can be a gamble: Will a score never meant to engage the audience on its own hold the stage by itself?
Tempesta di Mare played its hand deftly on Saturday night at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, bringing verve, grace, and spark to music that wasn’t always worthy of such treatment but did always benefit from it.
The first half of the program was music heard in London theaters in the decades on each side of 1700. The stately overture and lively dances Henry Purcell wrote for Congreve’s farce The Double Dealer came off well, never overstaying their welcome; a zesty hornpipe featuring two recorders was a particular delight.
Next came four brief concertos of the sort pit bands played between acts. One composer whose music was popular for that purpose was Arcangelo Corelli; the piece performed here, Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 10, wasn’t nearly as captivating, although concertmaster Emlyn Ngai improvised some delightful flourishes during the central slow movement. The similar Sinfonia di concerto grosso No. 5 by Alessandro Scarlatti had more substance, as well as some of the little surprises this composer liked to stash in his scores.
The real treat was Concerto No. 5 for two recorders and strings by the all-but-forgotten Englishman William Babell, with soloists Gwyn Roberts and Aik Shin Tan dispatching their parts with more charisma and elegance than you’d think was possible from those simple little pipes you blew into in third-grade music class.
After the intermission came the set that seemed most promising: excerpts from the score that the great 17th-century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote for Molière’s comedy Le Malade imaginaire. The selections’ titles were promisingly odd: pieces for dancing upholsterers, surgeons, pharmacists, and (in a later scene) Moors. Yet the music itself seemed no more whimsical or exotic than any other French Baroque dances – and, in truth, by that point I’d heard enough of music that was never intended to be the primary focus of our attention.
Just in time, the evening became an entirely different concert, and Tempesta di Mare became an entirely different band – one for zarzuela, Spain’s equivalent of operetta or Rodgers & Hammerstein. Out came the drums and castanets and claves; the music cooked, swung, and sashayed in fabulous estilo español.
These treats were songs for Roman gods from Destinos vencen finezas, a retelling of the story of Dido and Aeneas composed by Juan Francisco de Navas for a royal wedding in 1698 and performed here for possibly the first time since. Mezzo Maren Montalbano seemed not quite fully comfortable with her boy-voice for Cupid, but as Venus and Juno, she was pure, suave, and sensuous, delivering rapid-fire Spanish with rhythmic flair and high spirits.” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 2015