Teatro Real Orchestra brings dazzle and Spanish flair to US debut

Soprano Sabina Puértolas performed with the Teatro Real Orchestra conducted by Juanjo Mena Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

The parade of European orchestras bringing continental and national Polish flavors to New York swelled Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, as Madrid’s Teatro Real Orchestra made its impressive US debut with a program of Spanish concerts and zarzuela directed by Juanjo Mena.

The ensemble, founded in 1903 as Orquestra Sinfónica de Madrid, acquired its current nickname in 1997, when it became the resident orchestra of the Teatro Real (Royal Opera House), the splendid 1850 building facing at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

On Thursday, the household names of Albéniz and de Falla rubbed shoulders with masters of musical theater such as Chueca, Vives and Sorozábal, reminding the listener that whether cultivated abroad by progressive émigrés or back in a relatively conservative Madrid, the irresistible dance rhythms and harmonies of Spain were a distinctive current in 19th and early 20th century music.

At the top of the program, the two suites of Manuel de Falla’s ballet The sombrero of tres picos (Le Tricorne), with Suite I opening the evening in an atmosphere of mystery and Suite II closing it with the familiar and always dazzling “Danza finale”.

The Spanish maestro has shrewdly collected the fragments of the day in these opening pages of Suite I, a tissue of whispering strings and wind solos that ultimately resulted in the silky, transparent orchestral timbres that will characterize the band’s playing throughout the evening. .

Pianist Javier Perianes was front and center for Falla’s Nights in the gardens of Spain (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), although the piece is less a showy concerto than a series of symphonic impressions with obbligato piano. That said, Perianes’ dialogues with the orchestra, by turns moving and scintillating, added immeasurably to the show’s rich nocturnal atmosphere.

Javier Perianes interpreted Manuel de Falla Nights in the Gardens of Spain Thursday evening. Photo: Chris Lee

A three-movement suite from Isaac Albéniz’s piano masterpiece Iberia followed, in orchestrations by the composer (“El puerto”) and the orchestra’s longtime conductor, Enrique Fernández Arbós (“Evocación” and “Triana”). Mena and his musicians overcame a certain thickness in the composer’s orchestration to drive through the driving rhythms of the first movement, and a certain sense of pulsation and orchestral color animated the later movements, with their eloquent melodies and dances. sparkling.

The second half of the concert opened with “Interlude and Spanish Dance”, the climactic scene from Falla’s opera The brief life (The short life). Once again, Mena’s fluid conducting weaves fragmentary phrases to begin with, before a castanet-driven wedding dance, by turns fierce and seductive, builds to its dramatic conclusion.

The program then turned to the world of zarzuela, the genre of musical theater popular in Spain and Latin America, featuring the light and agile voice of soprano Sabina Puértolas in songs that are both seductive and dramatic. The soloist danced with a bouncy three-bar beat and added just a touch of coloratura on the spot in Amadeo Vives’ “Canción del ruiseñor” (Song of the Nightingale). Dona Francisquita, then shot a ballad-like narrative (with yodelling cadences) in “En un país de fábula” (In a fairy tale country) by Pablo Sorozábal Taberna del Puerto (The keeper of the harbor tavern).

Federico Chueca’s Preludio The boat (The Baptism), a melodious medley akin to a traditional Broadway overture, served not only as a refreshing sherbet between vocal lessons, but also as costume-change music for soloist Puértolas, who traded in her bulky, somewhat rustic for a form-fitting neckline number. sing the seductive “Me llaman la primorosa” (They call me the Primorosa) from The Barber of Seville by Manuel Nieto and Gerónimo Gimenez.

The singer spun the undulating Spanish musical phrases brilliantly, adding vocal pyrotechnics to her now familiar light coloratura, as Mena and the orchestra surged up behind her. They then returned for an encore, “Carceleras”, by The hijas of Zebedeo (The Daughters of Zebedee), by Ruperto Chapí, a flamenco song highlighting the darker register of Puértolas.

The familiar sounds of Falla’s second suite rarely, if ever, sounded better, from the somber Arabic scales of “Danza de los vecinos” to the creaking stomping of “Danza del molinero” to the breathless rhythm and orchestral spectacle of the “Final Dance”. For good measure, the conductor and orchestra added a bright and dynamic encore, “Interlude” by Luis Alonso’s weddingby Gimenez.

If this accomplished, self-presented concert by Teatro Real was a tryout for inclusion in Carnegie’s next series featuring visiting foreign orchestras, it would have to be said more than passed the audition.

The Carnegie Hall Opening Gala features the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Seguin, with pianist Daniil Trifonov, in works by Ravel, Liszt, Gabriela Lena Frank and Dvořák, September 29 at 7 p.m. carnegiehall.org.

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