From Strauss' Don Quixote to Telemann's Burlesque de Quixotte, the self-appointed knight from La Mancha − who dried his brains through too much reading before opting to roam native planes in search of chivalric adventure − has captured the artistic imagination from the time of his inception. 400 years after the death of "el Príncipe de los Ingenios", Don Quixote sits at the heart of the current edition of the Festival Cervantino in Mexico, which features events from the entire spectrum of performing arts under a theme this year of “de la locura al idealismo”. Spanish soprano Raquel Andueza and her two-man band La Galania starred in a festival series investigating music from the time of Cervantes. Here was a quixotic mix of songs to conjure the splendour of the "Siglo d'Oro".
The opening Yo soy la locura, set by de Bailly to the rotating chordal progression of the Portuguese dance La Folia, has Madness declare that she brings joy into the world and that none are free from her charms. Andueza, clad in dark period velvet beneath free golden curls, swayed voluptuously as the flanking Pierre Pitzl (Baroque guitar) and Jesús Fernández Baena (theorbo) exchanged expressions of ecstasy. Building from rippling caresses, this all-moving triumvirate teased out the strain of yearning that ran throughout a programme doused in enough desire to match that of Quixote for his imaginary Dulcinea.
The elephant in the room was that Andueza's head voice was in such bad shape. She was forced to grip and sing through wool whenever she went above a B natural. But her lower register retained colour and we were also won over by such charismatic singing in spite of challenging circumstances. Programmatic flow kept attentions rapt as the opening work flowed into the popular Marizápalos and the anomalously composed Tres niñas me dan enojos. For every piece that simmered there was another to raise the pulse, not least in the venereal chase between voice and players that is Vuestra ojos, in which Andueza directed a scampering monosyllabic text to an audience member she had singled with a dallying point of the finger.
Not exactly armed with virtuoso technique, Andueza is more concerned with vibrant delivery of the text than solid vocal production for its own sake. The players at her side, however, mixed improvisatory flair with stunning technical ability. Nowhere better did Pitzl and Fernández as one than in the instrumental Zarabanda del catálogo by Álvaro Torrente, a Madrid-based expert on Spanish music of the 18th century, emitting spangling waves of sound in a seamless tapestry. Gaspar Sanz's Canarios for solo guitar provided fleet-footed contrast, whilst a “folias” by the same composer's saw players reach rock star status, building from a wistful melody through coursing quavers to maddened strumming at the climax.
Other works placed Spanish music within a broader European context. That Crédito es de mi decoro by Spanish court musician Juan Hidalgo has so much in common with Monteverdi highlights the process of cultural exchange that took place between Spain and Italy, the former having dominated large part of the latter, and in true Monteverdian form the music here was painted in searing false relations on words like 'morir' and rapturous exhalations on 'respiro'. "Sé que me muero de amor” from Lully's Le bourgeois gentilhomme – a Spanish number from a French comédie-ballet – alluded to the continental craze for all things Spanish at the height of the Golden Age. The encore of Arianna's lament by Monteverdi, the only non-Spanish work we heard, saw musicians rinse every ounce of pathos from the text. A passionate dedication to the lost age that produced Spain's most fantastical literary figure.
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