Tenor Portillo brings impressive artistry to Latin program

By Lawrence Budmen

Tenor David Portillo performed a recital of Latin songs Sunday at Freedom Tower, presented by IlluminArts.

Tenor David Portillo performed a recital of Latin songs Sunday at Freedom Tower, presented by IlluminArts. Photo: Kristen Hoebermann

The IlluminArts concert series presents intimate vocal recitals in spaces surrounded by art, connecting musical and visual creativity.

On Sunday afternoon the series offered a program of Latin song by tenor David Portillo in the MDC Museum of Art + Design in downtown Miami’s historic Freedom Tower. Portillo recently made his Metropolitan Opera debut (in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville) and he has sung at Lyric Opera of  Chicago and the Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne Festivals. In a program that mixed classic art song with more vernacular popular fare, the tenor aptly demonstrated why his career is on the rise.

The 20th-century Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera is best known for the folk-based ballet score Estancia and his late thorny, atonal piano works and operas. Five songs revealed a different side of Ginastera. By turns impressionistic, sadly ruminative and replete with bursts of rhythmic vitality, Ginastera’s vignettes are wonderful gems that deserve to be programmed more often.

The songs immediately displayed Portillo’s exceptional vocal gifts. There was deep emotion in his voice for “Triste” and his impressive high range, projected without strain, soared through the clipped pace of “Chacarera.”  Portillo brought  the flair of a natural entertainer to the Latin beat of “Gato.”

Ginastera’s piano writing showcased the impressive talents of Gregory Ritchey, Portillo’s accompanist. Associate conductor and chorus master of the Palm Beach Opera (where Portillo appears in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale February 19-21), Ritchie brought lightness and color to the keyboard lines, at times sounding almost improvisatory. The rippling passages in the opening and closing songs in the cycle were dispatched with accuracy and verve.

Three songs by Fernando Obradors  were a fine outlet for Portillo’s impressive technique. In the gorgeously romantic “Del cabello más sutil,” his lyric tenor caressed the melodic lines with melting pianissimos in the soft tones of the second verse.

Portillo described Carlos Gardel as “the 1930’s version of Justin Timberlake.” The Argentine composer,  singer and movie star certainly had a major impact on popular culture. Gardel’s tangos achieved international popularity, creating a dance craze.

Eschewing an overtly and inappropriate operatic approach, Portillo sang Gardel’s songs with the ease and style of a pop troubadour. Gardel’s foxtrot “Rubias de New York” had more than a touch of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and Portillo delivered it with showbiz flair, Ritchey free and jazzy at the keyboard.

The world of the Spanish zarzuela was represented by  “No puede ser” from La Tabernera del puerto by Pablo Sorozabal. Once programmed regularly in concert by Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, this aria found Portillo singing with passion, the voice full and rich.

Concluding with songs by Mexico’s Maria Grever and Augustin Lara, Portillo proved that the cobwebs can be freshly dusted from even the most familiar material. (Portillo joked that Grever’s real name was Maria de la Portilla so he must be related to her.) Grever’s “Te quiiero dijiste” (known in the American version as “Magic is the Moonlight”) was romantic, yet tastefully understated. In “Lamiento Gitano,” Portillo’s firm, almost baritonal lower register was on display.

Lara’s “Solamente una vez” (Americanized as “You Belong in My Heart”) was given idiomatic fervor and Granada capped the program in full throated style. Irving Berlin’s “I’ll See You in Cuba” was a diverting encore, the text about Americans heading to Havana timely with diplomatic relations recently restored. Portillo’s showmanship in this Tin Pan Alley ditty was greatly enjoyed by the audience.

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Mon Feb 8, 2016
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