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BWW Review: PASIÓN LATINA at Home Computer Screens

A Wonderful Concert of Spanish Language Song

BWW Review: PASIÓN LATINA at Home Computer Screens

On Sunday afternoon, December 12, 2020, well known operatic soprano Ana Maria Martinez hosted a concert of song from many parts of the world where Spanish is spoken. The singers, from Spanish speaking backgrounds, were at one time or are currently members of the young artist program at Lyric Opera of Chicago's Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center.

Martinez, accompanied by pianist and Ryan Center Music Director Craig Terry, opened the program singing and even dancing a little bit to the "Salida de Cecilia Valdés" ("Farewell of Cecilia Valdés") from Gonzalo Roig and Augustín Rodriguez's zarzuela Cecilia Valdés.

She then introduced tenor David Portillo who offered a smooth, romantic rendition of Miguel Sandoval's "Sin tu amor" ("Without Your Love"). I had not heard baritone Ricardo José Rivera's voice before, but I certainly hope to hear more of his singing. A current member of the Ryan Opera Center, he sang Maria Grever's "Jurame" ("Swear to me") with the passion advertised for this concert, especially when he sang the words describing his unbounded affection for his lover.

Another current Ryan Opera Center ensemble member is soprano Denis Vélez. Accompanied by fellow ensemble member Chris Reynolds, she sang Ruperto Chapi's prisoner song, "Carceleras" which is much happier than its title indicates. The singer's lover steals hearts, not money, and she prides herself on having the man every woman wants.

Of course, a concert of Spanish song has to include a rousing rendition of "Granada." Tenor Mario Rojas and pianist Craig Terry gave us Augustín Lara's unforgettable dramatic song with all the trimmings. To English-speaking ears, Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino's "La Rosa y El Sauce" sounds like food. "Sauce" is Spanish for "willow" and the song is about the love of the willow tree for the rose reaching up to receive an embrace. Warm voiced David Portillo sang poignantly of the uncomprehending girl who picked the rose and left the willow to mourn.

Bass-baritone Richard Ollasaba gave an energetic and passionate rendition of Mexican composer Manuel Esperon's "¡Ay Jalisco, no te rajes!" ("Oh, Jalisco, Don't Give Up"). Vélez returned with her guitar to enchant listeners with the traditional Mexican folk song "La Llorona" ("The Weeping Woman"). David Portillo sang tenderly of the nostalgic side of life with Carlos Gardel's "Volver" ("Return"). Ryan Opera Center Ensemble member Ricardo Jose Rivera sang Osvaldo Farrés' one-time hit song, "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas," better known in English as "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" recorded by Nat King Cole. Accompanied by Reynolds, Rivera sang it with a dramatic air and a dark sound.

A singer who has been heard throughout the United States but now lives in Germany, René Barbera, returned via Internet to join the concert coming from Chicago singing "Bella Enamorada" ("Beautiful Lover") from Reveriano Soutullo and Juan Vert's zarzuela "El Ultimo Romantico" ("The Last Romantic"). Although Barbera said he did not get to sing Spanish music very often, he showed that he knows how to charm an audience in any language. Even his highest notes were filled with warmth and color. I just hope he will come back to the States for a visit when he can.

Martinez returned to sing another group that began with two songs telling of the beauty of her birthplace, Puerto Rico. Monsita Ferrer's "Amanecer" describes dawn in the island's mountains and Marín's "Preciosa" ("Precious") celebrates Puerto Rico's blend of Spanish, African, and Taino cultures. David Portillo joined her in singing Carlos Gardel's tango "El día que me quieras" ("The Day that You Love Me"). Martinez and Vélez sang a lovely and delicately rendered version of Manuel Ponce's "Estrellita" ("Little Star").

For a finale, the entire group joined forces digitally to sing Rafael Hernandez Marin's "El Cumbanchero" ("The Bongo Player") accompanied by two percussionists and a few other members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. The songs provided a great deal fun and made a wonderfully energetic farewell for a fabulous evening of song. The singing was gorgeous and the accompanists excellent. The concert can be seen for free at:

It will remain online for a year, so recital fans and people who are learning Spanish can check out the songs at will. I know it won't be long before I go back to hear this concert again.

Photo of Denis Vélez and Chris Reynolds by Kyle Flubacker for Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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From This Author Maria Nockin