Review: Once More with Heart – A Celebration of Women CON ALMA

Showcasing the Album “Con Alma” by Composer Paola Prestini and Singer-Composer Magos Herrera Live at the UN

By: Apr. 09, 2023
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Review: Once More with Heart – A Celebration of Women CON ALMA
Paola Prestini (l) and Magos Herrera

If we needed any further proof about how opera continues to evolve--as in "what's an operatic experience?"--a concert at New York's United Nations Headquarters featuring a live-and-in-person version of Paola Prestini's and Magos Herrera's CON ALMA album celebrated the recent International Women's Day. The album--and event--were subtitled "An Operatic Tableau on Isolation."

Anyone expecting LA BOHEME or CARMEN--or even Prestini's most recent opera, EDWARD TULANE, which premiered at Minnesota Opera last year--might have been disappointed in the musical rundown of the concert, which was held in the UN's Trusteeship Chamber.

However, I don't think that the audience present could have been more receptive to the performance, by Herrera and members of the Young People's Chorus of New York, among others, which featured original works alongside classic songs from the Mexican and jazz songbook. To say it was "genre-defying" would be an understatement.

Co-directed by Prestini (a co-founder of Brooklyn's National Sawdust, which released the album on its Tracks label) and Herrera, who have been friends for 15 years or so, the performance combines original music by the pair with covers of classics (including "Con Alma" by Dizzy Gillespie and "Cucurrucucu Paloma" by Tomas Mendez), with the breathy voice of Herrera giving life to many of the songs.

The setlist included "Thrush Song" by Prestini, "Fratres" by Prestini, "Creacion de las Aves" by Herrera and Vinicius Gomes, "Alma Muerta" by Prestini, "Rojo Sol" by Herrera, "Cucurrucucu" by Mendes, "I Celebrate Myself" by Prestini, "Con Alma" by Gillespie, "Tree of 40 Fruit" by Prestini, "Healer" by Herrera, Gomes and Gonzalo Grau.

This performance, which was thrilling, entertaining and moving all at once, was a long time aborning, having been caught up in the heights of the Covid epidemic in 2020, isolating many of the people involved in the creation of the album/digital experience. In fact, though, it made the project even more exciting--because there was no possibility of getting all the participants in a single location during the pandemic.

It uses music in creating a shared experience--showing that even when we are physically alone, we can have a common experience with others. As a lyric of Stephen Sondheim says, "No one is alone."

The result was about three dozen musicians on three continents collaborating--working in a most challenging way--to bring the project to life, discovering a sense of community during a time of isolation. Besides the soul-filled performers live on stage at the UN hall, including Herrera, the members of the Young People's Chorus and the musicians on guitar (Vinicius Gomes), cello (Jeffrey Zeigler) and percussion (Gonzalo Grau), there were live drawings and animation, video, conversations and storytelling.

The concert was produced by VisionIntoArt, and presented by Death of Classical in partnership with Carnegie Hall. As part of the Generation Equality Forum at the UN, it was "a tribute to feminist leadership, intergenerational solidarity and meaningful youth engagement."