Kseniya Simonova, sand artist
Photo courtesy of Getty

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Carmen: Sounds of Spain

Dates and Venues Friday, February 7, 2020 at 8pm at the Bell Performing Arts Centre | Saturday, February 8, 2020 at 8pm at the Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Otto Tausk Featured performers Rihab Chaieb - Mezzo-soprano & Kseniya Simonova - Sand Artist

Program Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 1; de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas & El Sombreos de Tres Picos; Granados’ Goyescas; Chabrier’s España

Reviewer John Jane

It was close to a capacity crowd at the Orpheum that enjoyed Maestro Otto Tausk and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra perform a Spanish themed program last Saturday evening (Feb. 8). Musically, it was a fairly eclectic program that included composers from both France and Spain.

Georges Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most beloved operas of all time. The tragic story of a sensuous gypsy girl and her ill-fated lover Don José has had opera-buffs flocking to opera houses since it was first performed in 1875. The Carmen Suite No.1 is one of two orchestral suites drawn from Bizet's opera, compiled after the composer's death by Ernest Guiraud.From the introduction of brass and strings in the Prelude in Suite No.1 and Chris James’ solo flute in the seductive Intermezzo to the intoxicating rhythms of the instantly recognizable Procession of the Toreadors from the opera’s act four had the audience spellbound.

Following an orchestral suite from a well-known opera, the audience was treated to something we don’t get enough of in classical concerts - a song-cycle of traditional Spanish folksongs. Taken from various regions of Spain, Manuel de Falla arranged the siete canciones populares españolas for piano and soprano. Though, I confess to only ever hearing them played on a guitar. For this particular concert, however, they have been re-arranged for orchestra and the vibrant voice of mezzo soprano Rihab Chaieb. Dressed in an elegant ice blue gown, Ms. Chaieb gave each song a strikingly different character. For example, the third song, Asturian, about a young girl who finds solace in a green pine tree has a melancholic tone, while Nana (no.5) is a soothing lullaby.

Enrique Granados was arguably as famous for his magnificent handlebar moustache as his music. But if one is to hear only one of his compositions, the natural choice would be his chef-d'œuvre, Goyescas inspired by Francisco Goya’s paintings of life among the working classes. The Intermezzo is a wonderfully moody tone poem, initially written to separate two operatic acts.

Maestro Tausk concluded the first set in leading the orchestra in French composer Emmanuel Chabrier’s instantly recognizable España. The orchestra gave the piece an audacious joyful energy with an upbeat tempo that gave way to delicate strings before ambushing the audience with a final onslaught from the brass section.

The second half of the concert was given entirely to Manuel de Falla’s El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat). The story of a magistrate infatuated with a miller's faithful wife and his vain attempts to seduce her was conveyed not just with the music, but also through Ukrainian Kseniya Simonova’s technique of fashioning sand (yes, the stuff you sit on at the beach) across a light table and projected on screens for viewing by the audience. Those familiar with the television program “America’s Got Talent” may have previously seen her perform.

As fascinating as Simonova’s unique artistry of splashing sand on glass was, it didn’t detract from the rhythmic energy of the orchestra’s reading of de Falla’s mesmerizing ballet score. Rihab Chaieb returned (almost unseen) to the stage for the two flamenco-styled songs. When the ballet was first performed shortly after WW1, it combined the talents of de Falla’s music, Léonide Massine’s choreography and Pablo Picasso’s set and costume design.

© 2020 John Jane