And they’re off! The free opening lunch music of the season in the Opera Galleria, subtitled, ‘Fiery Gypsies’, kicked off on Saturday with some sensory surprises. Anticipating the opening performance of Bizet’s beloved French opera, ‘Carmen’ on Wednesday 11th September, soloists from the Teatro Colón Buenos Aires presented an assorted menu of arias and dances to whet the appetite and tempt the taste buds.
The courtyard in the Galleria is fast becoming the go-to venue on Saturday lunchtimes, and seats filled up well before the concert began with music-lovers of all ages and backgrounds. The acoustics in the two-story atrium are phenomenal, emphasising the sheer volume of singers’ capabilities with front row seats for everyone. It is a pity that the blenders in some cafés did not share the same respect for the privilege, but all else was superb.
The 70-minute show was in two Acts; the first comprising excerpts from Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’, while the second showcased Bizet’s iconic masterpieces from ‘Carmen’.
Marcelo Ayub, who accompanied the entire recital, opened proceedings on the house Grand Piano with the introduction to Ferrando’s Aria, and suddenly Christian Peregrino emerged from the second row, taking the audience by surprise. He engaged immediately with plenty of drama and expression of ‘Abbietta Zingara’ (Despicable Gypsy), amusing the children at the front. His rich, warm voice filled the space with impressive strength, achieving an impassioned climax.
Cardiff Singer of the Year 2019 participant, thirty-two-year-old mezzo-soprano Guadalupe Barrientos draped herself over the piano as she began to sing the gypsy woman Azucena’s ‘Stride La Vampa!’ in full, passionate declamatory style. A female soloist from the Antonio Gades Dance Company glided across the floor, echoing the sentiments with impossible agility. Presented with tenor Sergio Spina as the timid Manrico in, ‘Non son tuo figlio?’ (am I not your son?) Barrientos fairly devoured him in a delicious outpouring of intimidating strength, reaching a rousing finale.
In contrast, Leonora was sung with classical posture by soprano, Marìa Belén Rivarola. In demure long grey silk, her plaintive yearning with well placed top notes concluded ‘On the rosy wings of love’ with a fine coloratura cadenza. From upstairs the voice of Manrico interjected with more confidence than with the fierce Azucena! It segued neatly into ‘Che! Non m’inganno’, an argumentative tour-de-force duet between tenor and soprano. Seated behind, Barrientos purred her thoughts and woes like a clock ticking against the quarrelling lovers, and Pina strode off stage, distraught.
The fiery gypsy heroine of ‘Carmen’ was a role designed for Guadalupe Barrientos. Introduced by Marcelo Ayub’s precisely articulated piano rhythms, Barrientos was voluptuous and compelling as the sultry cigarette girl, singing Carmen’s Aria with seductive flirtatiousness, later joined by the soprano in the ‘tra la la’ duet refrain.
The Argentinian tenor Enrique Folger was perfectly cast as Don José in his duet with Micaëla, ‘Speak to me of my mother!’ Rivarola was again shy and slightly frightened of her former lover, the out-lawed naive soldier whose infatuation with Carmen is only tempered by fond thoughts and memories of his mother.
The highlight of the spectacle came in Escamillo’s Aria, the famous Toreador Song. The solo female dancer twirled her red Spanish shawl, sailing across the floor to Christian Peregrino’s romantic story telling. A second lady in flamenco skirts appeared, then a dapper male dancer stole her shawl and flicked it with disdain and contempt across the stage. Rivarola and Barrientos entered the frame to sing the rousing finale of the Bullring Scene.
Hard to follow such a climax, the mood melted into Folger’s heartfelt performance of Don José’s Flower Song. His deploring rendition of sheer despair was touching as the star-crossed lover, underlined with excellent French diction. If that were not passion enough, the real climax of the extract came in the extended final scene where José tragically but inevitably must stab Carmen in a fit of jealousy. Guadalupe Barrientos reflected the whole gambit of emotions in her brilliant performance.
As temptress, seducer, fickle lover she reduced the pathetic Enrique Folger to a pleading quake, begging for her love as it once was. She was cold, heartless and dismissive having found a new exciting love in Escamillo. His pleas were palpable as he implored, ‘I adore you; I became an out-law for you’. She demanded to pass, and as they heard the Toreador Song offstage he stabbed her, holding her in his arms.
It was difficult to know how the company could offer an encore after so much raw emotion, but of course no production of ‘Carmen’ is complete without her famous, ‘Habanera’. Ms Barrientos rose to the challenge with sensuous caprice, as the dancing couple performed the moves from Antonio Gades’ own 1983 flamenco-infused film, ‘Carmen’.
A second encore followed; without any hint of exhaustion the mezzo-soprano launched into Piazzola’s Tango Argentina in Spanish with emotionally charged poignancy. Was there no end to her versatility? More Tangos by Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera, this time led by tenor Sergio Spina, brought the whole company to a terrific rousing tableau finale to endless ovation. The singers will feature as soloists in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, to be performed at ROHM on Friday 13th September under the baton of renowned tenor and conductor, José Cura.
Photos by KHALID AL BUSAIDI