hispanic-heritage-month-concertphoto credit: Wade Caldwell


FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- The Symphony of the Americas opened its twenty-fifth anniversary season on Tuesday night (October 16) with a festive musical celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater. James Brooks-Bruzzese, the orchestra's artistic director for a quarter century, shared the podium with veteran Cuban-American composer-arranger-conductor Alfredo Munar for an evening of music from the Spanish and Cuban zarzuela repertoire.

The orchestra was in top form throughout the evening, playing with precision, luster and sonorous corporate ensemble. Brooks-Bruzzese opened the program with George Gershwin's Cuban Overture, a performance that pulsated with Latin rhythmic thrust. Orchestra and conductor captured the bluesy aura of the central section and the finale literally crackled with high energy excitement. The Farandole from Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite No.2 sparkled, the wind playing replete with color and the climactic combination of the two principal themes brilliantly articulated by the full orchestral forces.

Six vocal soloists from the studio of distinguished Miami vocal pedagogue Manny Perez were featured in zarzuela highlights. The zarzuela is the Spanish equivalent of the Viennese operetta or the French opera comique. This repertoire is rich and varied, requiring singers with major league operatic voices. Tenor Jorge Antonio Pita has sung leading roles at some of the world's leading opera houses (including London's Covent Garden, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna). His ringing, vibrant voice set the hall ablaze in the Romanza de Javier from Luisa Fernanda by Federico Moreno Torroba, the first of four excerpts from that Spanish zarzuela classic. Pita was joined by Susana Diaz, a soprano with an attractive, light timbre, for the duet of Carolina and Javier. The voluminous, imposing bass-baritone Armando Naranjo exuded star quality with Vidal's rousing aria Los Vareadores and a duet from Luisa Fernanda, his sound warm and deep.

Naranjo's duo partner Carolina Castells unfurled dusky, lustrous soprano tones in a sensuous, romantic excerpt from Maravilla, also by Torroba. Singing in English, Diaz spun exquisitely soft pianissimos in the ever popular Vilia from Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, a score that has joined the repertoire of zarzuela theaters (often in the Spanish language version La Viuda Allegre).

Turning to music from Cuban zarzuelas, Munar took the podium for three excerpts from Cecilia Valdes by Gonzalo Roig. Munar has reconstructed the orchestral scores for the theater works of Roig and Ernesto Lecuona from recorded versions, the scores not available outside of Cuba. (Recently Munar conducted his edition of Lecuona's Maria la O in Chicago.) After a dramatic overture, Mariel Cruz gave a magnetic rendition of Cecilia's solo. Cruz's choreography was as vivid as her rich, ddark toned voice. Naranjo offered a suave version of the solo La Dulce Quimera.

Betsy Diaz exuded Cuban soul and fervent emotion in the title arias from two of Lecuona's zarzuela classics Rosa la China and Maria la O, winning cheers from an enthusiastic audience. Bruzzese and the orchestra offered sumptuous accompaniments. In a final Spanish zarzuela excerpt, Pita vaulted bronze high tones to the rafters with No Puede Ser from La Tabernera del Puerto by Pablo Sorozabal.

Bruzzese's lively version of the Danse Boheme from the Carmen Suite No.2 provided a diverting interlude. He concluded the program with Huapango by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo. A protégé of legendary Mexican composer-conductor-educator Carlos Chavez, Moncayo crafted a superb synthesis of indigenous music from the street life of Veracruz with classical symphonic instrumentation. With a large percussion battery providing a strong rhythmic pulse, the performance sizzled. The lush string sonorities and terrific brass playing put an exciting exclamation point on the soaring melodies and thrusting rhythms. After a standing, cheering ovation for all the concert's participants, Brooks-Bruzzese led a stirring performance of Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever, concluding an exciting opener.

The Symphony of the Americas will present Sounds of the Season: A Holiday Extravaganza on December 11 at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater. For information, www.SymphonyoftheAmericas.org. or 954-335-7002.

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