Teatro Real Orchestra brings dazzle and Spanish flair to U.S. debut

Fri Sep 16, 2022 at 2:59 pm
Soprano Sabina Puértolas performed with the Orchestra of the Teatro Real led by Juanjo Mena Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

The parade of European orchestras that bring Continental polish and national flavors to New York swelled Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, as Madrid’s Orchestra of the Teatro Real made an impressive U.S. debut with a program of Spanish concert favorites and zarzuela conducted by Juanjo Mena.

The ensemble, founded in 1903 as the Orquestra Sinfónica de Madrid, acquired its current moniker in 1997, when it became the resident orchestra of the Teatro Real (Royal Opera), the splendid 1850 building that faces Madrid’s Royal Palace.

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

Bookending the program were the two suites from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), with Suite I opening the evening in an atmosphere of mystery and Suite II ending it with the familiar and ever-dazzling “Danza final.”

The Spanish maestro artfully gathered the fragments of the day in those opening pages of Suite I, a tissue of string murmurs and wind solos that eventually cohered into the silky and transparent orchestral timbres that would characterize the group’s playing all evening.

Pianist Javier Perianes sat front and center for Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), although the piece is less a showy concerto than a series of symphonic impressions with piano obbligato. That said, Perianes’ dialogues with the orchestra, soulful and scintillating by turns, added immeasurably to the performance’s rich nocturnal atmosphere.

Javier Perianes performed Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain Thursday night. Photo: Chris Lee

A suite of three movements from Isaac Albéniz’s piano masterpiece Iberia followed, in orchestrations by the composer (“El puerto”) and by this orchestra’s longtime conductor Enrique Fernández Arbós (“Evocación” and “Triana”). Mena and his players overcame some thickness in the composer’s orchestration to put across the first movement’s catchy rhythms, and a sure sense of pulse and orchestral color enlivened the later movements, with their eloquent melodies and sparkling dances.

The concert’s second half opened with “Interlude and Spanish Dance,” the climactic scene from Falla’s opera La vida breve (The Short Life). Once again, Mena’s fluid conducting wove together fragmentary phrases to start, before a wedding dance driven by castanets, alternately fierce and seductive, built to its dramatic conclusion.

The program then tuned to the world of zarzuela, the popular musical-theater genre of Spain and Latin America, featuring the light, agile voice of soprano Sabina Puértolas in songs both flirty and dramatic. The soloist bobbed along with a bouncy three-to-a-bar beat and added just a touch of spot-on coloratura in “Canción del ruiseñor” (Song of the Nightingale) from Amadeo Vives’s Doña Francisquita, then spun a ballad-like narrative (with yodeling cadenzas) in “En un país de fábula” (In a Fairytale Land) from Pablo Sorozábal’s La tabernera del puerto (The Port Tavern Keeper).

The Preludio to Federico Chueca’s El bateo (The Baptism), a tuneful medley not unlike a traditional Broadway overture, served not only as a refreshing sorbet between vocal courses, but as costume-change music for soloist Puértolas, who traded her voluminous, somewhat rustic gown for a slinky, décolleté number to sing the seductive “Me llaman la primorosa” (They Call Me the Primorosa) from El barbero de Sevilla by Manuel Nieto and Gerónimo Giménez.

The singer spun out the curling Spanish musical phrases with flair, adding vocal pyrotechnics to her now-familiar light coloratura, while Mena and the orchestra surged behind her. They then returned for an encore, “Carceleras,” from Las hijas del Zebedeo (The Daughters of Zebedee), by Ruperto Chapí, a flamenco song showcasing Puértolas’s darker register.

The familiar sounds of Falla’s second suite rarely if ever sounded better, from the dark Arabic scales of the “Danza de los vecinos” to the grinding stomp of the “Danza del molinero” to the chugging beat and orchestral spectacle of the “Danza final.”  For good measure, conductor and orchestra added a brilliant, bouncy encore, “Interlude” from The Wedding of Luis Alonso, by Giménez.

If this accomplished, self-presented concert by Teatro Real was a tryout for inclusion in Carnegie’s subsequent series presenting visiting orchestras from abroad, one would have to say it more than passed the audition.

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

One Response to “Teatro Real Orchestra brings dazzle and Spanish flair to U.S. debut”

  1. Posted Sep 17, 2022 at 10:33 am by Chaim Shimshowitz

    The review should have referred also to the disrespectful behaviour of part of the audience and the ushers who left the doors open at the beginning of the second part while the conductor and orchestra were already on stage. Also, the disrespect of part of the audience (probably the patrons of the event, on the first tear) to the reqierement of wearng masks.

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