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Song of the Day: March 2

Efrain-3212 croppedThis week we welcome baritone Efrain Solis to Song of the Day! He has sung with companies such as San Francisco Opera, Virginia Opera, and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. You can hear him with NYFOS on Tuesday, April 26th concert at Merkin Hall in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women (get tickets here). 

 

Today we really dive into my history and culture and get into the flavor of our upcoming recital, Compositora! Juan Gabriel is a name that every person in Mexico, and really all over Latin America, would recognize. He is a true Divo and an amazing orchestrator, singer, and composer. This song is truly an anthem and I feel it’s slightly haunting as well. Juan Gabriel claims he wrote this song after he received news of his mother’s passing, while he was in Acapulco, Guerrero. He dedicates it often in concert to all the mothers in the audience and to this day my grandmother can’t hold back tears when she hears it. It’s an amazing song and I’ve included a translation for you as well. My favorite thing about this performance at the Palace of Fine Arts, in Mexico City, is his improvisations as a tail end to the song.

Amor Eterno (Juan Gabriel)
Tú eres la tristeza de mis ojos
Que lloran en silencio por tu amor
Me miro en el espejo y veo en mi rostro
El tiempo que he sufrido por tu adios
Obligo a que te olvide el pensamiento
Pues siempre estoy pensando en el ayer
Prefiero estar dormida que despierta
De tanto que me duele que no estés

(Coro)

Como quisiera, ay, que tú vivieras
Que tus ojitos jamás se hubieran cerrado nunca
Y estar mirándolos
Amor eterno, e inolvidable
Tarde o temprano estaré contigo
Para seguir amándonos

Yo he sufrido tanto por tu ausencia
Desde ese día hasta hoy, no soy feliz
Y aunque tengo tranquila mi consciencia
Sé que pude haber yo hecho más por ti
Oscura soledad estoy viviendo
La misma soledad de tu sepulcro
Tú eres el amor del cual yo tengo
El más triste recuerdo de Acapulco

 

You are the sadness in my eyes
That cry in silence for your love
I see myself in the mirror and see in my face
The time I have suffered from your goodbye
I force my memory to forget you
For I am always thinking on yesterday
I’d rather be asleep than awake
Because of how much it pains me that you aren’t here.

How I wish, oh, that you lived
That your little eyes had never closed
And are watching over now
Eternal love, and unforgettable
Sooner or later I will be with you
So we continue in our love

I have suffered much by your absence
From that day until now I’m never happy
And although my conscience is clear
I know I could have done so much more for you
I live in a dark loneliness
The same loneliness of your grave
You are the love of which I have
The saddest memory of Acapulco

Blier’s Blog: NYFOS@Juilliard

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)Steven Blier on the NYFOS@Juilliard Residency: Day 1, January 4

Starting a new project is like starting a new love affair. You come in with excitement and high hopes, and you promise yourself that it’s going to go smoothly, fueled on daily progress and sustained industry.

In reality, of course, every day brings its moments of bliss and its moments of blister. Day one was largely bliss. We began with a read-through of the whole show, and while it felt about as long as Die Götterdämmerung, each act didn’t actually run much more than 45 or 50 minutes, a perfectly manageable length. In the previous semester I’d had the leisure to work on most of the solo pieces and duos, and they mostly remained in beautiful shape, with some stunning performances. The ensemble pieces, however, had not gotten as much attention—it was very difficult to get everyone together in one room at the same time during the semester, and we managed it only once. Assembling the group numbers smoothly therefore depended on everyone reading and assimilating my rather detailed messages and my musical scrawls sent as PDFs. This is apparently a mushy area for some people, and I admit there were a few moments when I felt my blood pressure spiking.

There’s no denying, however, that this cast is comprised of seven amazingly stylish performers, endowed with rhythm, humor, sensitivity, and breathtakingly beautiful voices. And it was a blast to watch director Mary Birnbaum and choreographer Adam Cates work their magic. These two bring so much imagination and craft to these songs, most of which I have known for decades. Harry, Hoagy, and Harold is off and running—no, flying.

Juilliard1The picture is from the opening song of the show, Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Old Music Master.” In this piece, Dimitri Katotakis plays a 19th century composer who is visited by two emanations from the future; they tell him that jazz will take over the world in a hundred years and he’d better learn to swing if he wants his music to survive. In Mary and Adam’s staging, the ghostly spirits are Dimitri’s coatrack (played by Amanda Lynn Bottoms) and desk (played by Kelsey Lauritano); they come to life and shake some serious booty. Dimitri, the old music master, is convinced.

Come hear these young talents in Harry, Hoagy, and Harold on January 13, 7:30pm at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at The Juilliard School (tickets here) or on January 17, 3pm at Flushing Town Hall (tickets here).

Song of the Day: November 20

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)Renata Scotto and Tito Gobbi in today’s Song of the Day from Steven Blier:

I went to the Met yesterday evening. It was part of a new year’s resolution to stay au courant with the current crop of opera singers, and to see more of the new productions in the theater. I was treated to the Rigoletto production set in Rat Pack-era Las Vegas. You know the drill: pole-dancers, fan-dancers, the Countess Ceprano looks like Marilyn Monroe, Gilda’s corpse gets dumped into the trunk of a blue sports car, Rigoletto gets tricked by the “courtiers” by being led to the wrong elevator. The main visual motif is garish neon lighting. I didn’t mind the updating per se, but the performance was logy and aimless, and the plot points weren’t made very clear (Rigoletto says “We’re alone” while there are 40 choristers still onstage). The dark, brooding color of Verdi’s music seemed to be an afterthought to a brash, in-your-face concept. The two really good performances were, alas, in two of the smaller parts: the Sparafucile (a superb basso named Stefan Kocan), and the Act II guard who has one line (Earle Patriarco, who delivered his bit part with clarion force). The rest of singing ranged from uneven to mediocre to distressing—though I liked many things about Pablo Heras-Casado’s conducting. He deserved a better cast.

The theme of the week is comfort, and Italian opera is a kind of home for me. Last night I thought, “Well, they say you can’t go home again.” But YouTube provided a safe haven this morning with two Rigoletto excerpts from Italian television in the late 1950s. VERY old-fashioned, non-HD, from-the-gut performing by two great artists: Renata Scotto and Tito Gobbi. Something about the way they perform the end of Act II reduced me to tears this morning. I had to reassure Jim I was OK as I stared at my computer, weeping. I don’t want to live in the past—but sometimes I have to if I want to get fed properly.

Act II: “Sí, vendetta” with Scotto and Gobbi:

And if you want more: part of the Act I duet with Scotto and Gobbi:

Blier’s Blog: NYFOS@NorthFork / Day 5

Thursday’s big event was the arrival of Josh Vonderheide, our percussionist (pictured below). Clearly he doesn’t look Latin, but he’s one of those guys who can play anything from Brahms, Stravinsky, and Varèse to Cuban dance tunes. He is a calm, organized presence who makes music with the kind of command that would be staggering in a player of any age–but is especially impressive in a 23-year old. He knew the material cold–and hot. There is something about the sound of bongos and congas and claves and especially the shaker that defuses tension and gives music wings. For me, it was like arriving at an oasis. The dry spell was over.

IMG_3669We have a little bit of dancing in the show–no big choreography, just what we call “‘ography,” fairly informal partner-dancing for a couple of numbers. I knew Alex could move and I assume all women can dance (is that sexist?), but I only recently found out that Dimitri, who is an imposing 6’2″, has had some dance training as well. There is something breathtaking about big guys who are graceful, and our Dimitri is very light on his feet, a samba and merengue ace. He seems to turn into somebody else when he dances, a benign Lothario-bear. I could have rehearsed the instrumental break in “Frenesí” all afternoon. The hall was filled with life and light and swaying couples. It was interesting to see the boys vie for primacy as dance captain. I’d put Alex in charge, but Dimitri stepped up to the plate in a way we couldn’t ignore. The girls let themselves be led except for one spot where Anna gently contradicted Alex. Seeing a little squabble brewing, I stepped in. I know very little about dance but I could see Anna’s way was more graceful. “But…in Spanish dance, the man always takes the leading step!” protested Alex. “Sorry babe, it just looks a little awkward…”

It was gratifying to see everyone make big strides on their solos and duets. Alex sailed through his three numbers with a surprising Latinate vocal sheen–where does that Caribbean-Iberian sound come from in his Scottish-Russian-mongrel mix background? Wherever he finds the timbre, it’s just right for this repertoire. Anna’s opulent sound gets more flexible and personal every time she rehearses–that woman never stops working on her music. I could see that she’d picked up something intangible but palpable from our Skype talk with Victor Torres the day before, and her Argentinean songs were getting some sweet, south-of-the-border fragrance. Amanda has a way of stepping into her songs and inhabiting them in a way that seems effortless, a gift I am not sure she’s aware of. She has a natural sense of rhythm and a capacity for big, bold delivery that I am trying to encourage. When she’s on, she is a force to be reckoned with (I keep thinking of Shirley Verrett). And Dimitri had a late-rehearsal breakthrough that suddenly cracked his songs open. Because he’s tall and seems confident, I sometimes speak to him more forcefully than I do with the others. It seems he can take the push, and after I explode “NO NO NO NO NO NO!” I can then explain where his process goes off the tracks, and how to fix it. He’s a bright man, smart enough to have almost too many thoughts circulating in his brain while he’s singing. I tried to simplify it yesterday, get it down to one task: just SAY what you’re SAYING, and the phrase will follow. And it did–along with the color, the tempo, and the inner spirit of the song.

Over dinner Josh shared some of the more colorful details of his life. He’s got a refreshingly open spirit and reached out to us in the most disarming way. They say “Never judge a book by its cover.” In Josh’s case, the appealing book cover isn’t a bit misleading–but there are still plenty of surprises in the book

Song of the Day: July 3

(from Michael Barrett)

This week’s “Song of the Day” tribute to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson concludes with two selections from Four Hindu Poems by Maurice Delage (1879-1961). It is from a live performance in 1997 at the Moab Music Festival. The songs are “Un Sapin isole” (text by Heine), and “Si vous pensez” (Bhartrihari).  One of the most harmonically exotic and melodically delicious group of songs ever written, Delage stays within the French traditions of Dubussy and Ravel, but with some unconventional twists.

In “Un Sapin isole” the bent pizzicato on the cello imitating a sitar, creates the craggy isolation of the Fir Tree on its arid, snowy, freezing northern mountain. The viola seems to embody the longing of the suffering Palm Tree in the distant orient, burning in the tropics. And the musical color of the Fir Tree dreaming of the Palm is absolutely ravishing. On the words “he dreams”,  possibility and hope suddenly seem within reach. The extended vocal cadenza at the end seems written for Lorraine. Her musical imagination and vocal skill captures something otherworldly.

The text of “Si vous pensez” is very like many latin love songs we’ve played over the years: Just thinking of her causes pain. Her eyes! Her touch! It drives you mad. Had can she be called beloved? Delage creates a sense of tormented eroticism through a flute solo, followed by the most dense and probing  harmonies. It’s like a compendium of the best of Wagner and Ravel, all in two minutes.

Wishing you all a wonderful July 4th holiday. God Bless America. And God Bless the memory of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who continues to grace our lives with the beauty of her performances.