FGO wraps season with night of sultry Latin songs

By Lawrence Budmen

Catalina Cuervo performed a program of Latin arias and songs Friday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church. Photo: N. Svorinich/FGO

Following a stimulating season of intimate operas by Jake Heggie, Daron Hagen, Leonard Bernstein and Thomas Pasatieri, Florida Grand Opera offered a concluding treat on Friday night – a program of classical and popular arias and songs by Latin American composers. 

With nearly half the pews removed from the sanctuary at Coral Gables Congregational Church, the large, masked audience was appropriately distanced. The Miami-based Colombian soprano Catalina Cuervo was the evening’s featured attraction with singers from the FGO Studio Artists program making strong contributions along the way.

Cuervo, who has sung the title roles in FGO productions of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires and Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s Frida, told the audience that the concert marked the first time that she was singing publicly in fourteen months due to pandemic-related cancellations. Her return was indeed welcome. Cuervo is an old fashioned, larger-than-life personality who commands the stage and the room. Her impressive soprano compass ranges from a gutsy, almost mezzo-like bottom to a richly colored middle range and high notes that ring and vibrate.

Cuervo opened with “Júrame” by Mexican composer Maria Grever. This popular standard is often the province of tenors but Cuervo outdid most male singers for sheer soulful emotion and dramatic projection. Her version of Piazzolla’s “Los pájaros perdidos” was rendered with the stylish vivaciousness of a natural tango singer.

Two selection by the late Argentine composer Daniel Catán offered contrasting sides of Cuervo’s theatrical persona. “Comprendo” was replete with verbal coloration and deep passion. “Morenica me llaman” from Catán’s acclaimed opera Il Postino , a moody rumination on the heroine’s tan, displayed Cuervo’s impressive leaps to the top range. She concluded the program’s first half with “The Frida You See Before You” from Rodriguez’s opera. As Cuervo noted, this is the opera’s big Broadway conclusion and she sang this dramatic monologue with large musical gestures and sheer velocity that brought down the house. At the church’s excellent Bösendorfer, Jared Peroune’s pianism captured the tint and glow of each song while dovetailing Cuervo’s phrasing adroitly.

In the second half Cuervo turned to more populist side of the Central and South American musical diaspora. She was joined by guitarist Alvaro Bermudez whose elegant accompaniments and mastery of the instrument added seasoning to the crowd-pleasing fare. 

Cuervo let her hair down for the Mexican folk song “La Llorna,” singing with the vernacular aplomb of a Latin pop artist. She offered a torchy version of tango master Carlos Gardel’s “El día que me quieras” and carried off the echo effects winningly  in an intimately rendered “Cucurrucucú paloma,” a Mexican song by Tomás Mendez that was a pop hit in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Cuervo was joined by young artists from the FGO studio. Stephanie Doche’s firm mezzo took center stage for Jaime León’s “Rima” and the memorable melodic lines of “Gracias a la vida” by Chilean composer-singer-musicologist Violeta Parra. The gifted countertenor “Key’mon Murrah” sustained the long-limbed paths of León’s folkish “A ti.” He gave stunning traversals of two excepts from Cuban-American composer Jorge Martín’s song-cycle A Cuban in Vermont, originally conceived for soprano. Murrah captured the insistent rhythmic beat and firmly landed the coloratura high jinks of “Sol y brisas.” His exquisite vocal painting and carefully dynamics perfectly encapsulated the modernist lyricism of “Noturno.”

Michael Miller sang Ernesto Lecuona’s “Noche azul” with warmth and fluid resonance. Miller and Andrew Simpson gave a rousing duo version of Augustín Lara’s inevitable “Granada.” Amanda Sheriff, Doche, Murrah, Miller and Simpson joined Cuervo for Consuelo Velázquez’s “Bésame Mucho,” a sultry finale to a 90-minute tasting menu of Latin musical desserts.

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Sat Mar 27, 2021
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