Come with me to Seville at Whitsun 2022! Well, not exactly to Andalusia, but to Salzburg, where we will conjure up a vivid fantasy of Seville, with its stunningly bright light, its blistering heat, its intoxicating orange blossom scent, its unique melting pot of proud ancient cultures — and of course the incredibly varied music it generated and inspired.
When I was a teenager in Rome, a girl in my class went for dance lessons, and one day my father encouraged me to join her and take a look at what they were doing. It bowled me over as soon as I walked in: I had never seen anything like it. This studio concealed things that existed nowhere in my world. Flamenco, what a discovery! And in those days you couldn’t experience Flamenco via the media; you actually had to go there and take part. An irresistible force drew me in, until I finally joined a semi-professional group for some time. I haven’t shaken this fascination ever since. Whenever I visit Seville, I go to an unassuming tablao in the hope of an equally thrilling encounter with authentic flamenco music and dance. And as a keen admirer of María Pagés, I also attend her performances whenever possible. I’m therefore especially happy that she will now bring one of her vibrant shows to our festival.
I don’t know whether it was by chance or not, but my debut role as a professional opera singer was Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia! So there it was again, this magical place that unleashed my spirit and propelled me forward through the world of art. Rossini himself owed much of his reputation to a man from Seville: the great tenor Manuel del Pópulo Vicente García, who was born in this city in 1775 and excelled in so many Rossini operas throughout his career. It was thanks to Manuel García, and subsequently his daughters Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot, that the fortunes of Il barbiere di Siviglia changed so dramatically, from the disaster of the first performance to the tremendous fame it still enjoys. This delightful opera was the cornerstone of my own international career, and I’m so happy to return to it — maybe for the last time — alongside some of my very favourite colleagues, with Gianluca Capuano conducting and a new staging by Rolando Villazón.
One factor in the Garcías’ huge success with Il barbiere di Siviglia was their interpolation of songs in the Spanish folk style, such as the ‘caballo’ Yo que soy contrabandista, a composition by Manuel García himself. The García family brought the culture and temperament of southern Spain to theatres and private salons from St Petersburg to New York. With their typical Andalusian combination of raw emotion, haughty elegance and vertiginous virtuosity both on and off stage, they surely caused members of the local high society to feel as shocked as they were excited. Sensitive artists from Bellini and George Sand to Berlioz and Turgenev must have been as bewildered as I was when I first set foot into that flamenco studio in Rome.
The European craze for Spanish elements in literature, art and music in the 19th and early 20th centuries was strongly influenced by the general enthusiasm for the García family, and it is by now common knowledge that Manuel’s songs inspired the most significant tunes in Bizet’s Carmen. Excerpts from the purportedly 153 operas set in Seville will be presented in a glamourous gala concert at the end of our festival in 2022.
In about 1781, when Manuel García was six years old, he became a choirboy and thus received a thorough musical training at Seville’s famous Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See. By that time, the city could look back on several centuries of fantastic church music. Together, we will explore this wonderful heritage, which is still far too little known in Central Europe. Thanks to composers such as Francisco Guerrero and Cristóbal de Morales, sacral music prospered in Seville during the Renaissance period in the 16th century. Jordi Savall and his ensembles will be our knowledgeable guides on this journey. While their background is Catalan, they are probably the world’s greatest specialists in ancient music from Spain, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, which makes them ideal partners to familiarize us with this aspect of Seville’s rich musical tradition.
For centuries, Seville’s wealth was founded on its monopoly for trading with the colonies, and most of all for the precious metals brought over by the treasure fleet, also known as the West Indies Fleet. Tons of these riches were stored in one of Seville’s most popular tourist landmarks, the Torre del Oro, built by the Almohads to defend the local port before the city was conquered by the Spanish army during the Reconquista. There is many a sad story to tell about the long and complex relationship between Seville and the American colonies. However, disparate societies began to influence and finally enrich each other’s culture, no matter how unequal their alliance. Some of this can be heard in one of Christina Pluhar’s typical genre-hopping programmes, featuring songs and dances from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, she testifies to the fact that sincerely felt music so often transcends the hardship and bitterness inflicted on people, and looking back at their experience opens our hearts to compassion and love.
Manuel de Falla, the Iberian Peninsula’s most famous composer, was born in the Andalusian city of Cádiz and studied composition with Felip Pedrell, a Catalan composer and musicologist. Pedrell, who at the beginning of the 20th century uncovered much ancient Spanish music in archives in Rome, is considered the father of the Spanish national style. All of his students, who alongside de Falla included renowned figures such as Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados, wrote notable works of classical music that are thoroughly suffused with local folk tunes and rhythms. Javier Perianes, one of the leading Spanish pianists, will guide us through the world of his country’s music at the beginning of the 20th century, playing works such as de Falla’s rarely performed Fantasía Bética — a homage to the region of Cádiz — as well as movements from Albéniz’s famous suite Iberia dedicated to specific sites in Granada and Seville.
It is astounding how these seemingly incongruent elements begin to collect into a clear image like the colourful shards that turn into a miraculous picture when rotating a kaleidoscope. As María Pagés says, there is only one city in the world with the poetic power to transport the mythical settings and transient dreams of artistic creativity into reality: Seville.