Allison Voth has made uncovering Spanish art songs part of her passion project.
This past spring, Voth discovered pieces from unknown Spanish composers. She said that she had a difficult time locating physical copies of the compositions. Her friend was traveling to Spain, so she had them scan the music and bring it back to her so she could create a Spanish recital.
“(The music is) just being passed on from person to person,” Voth said. “Hopefully, it’ll start being published again because it’s some really great music.”
Now as a coach and accompanist, Voth is bringing some of those works to Chautauqua for an Afternoon of Song at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, July 19, in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor. The recital features three of Chautauqua Opera Company’s Young Artists: mezzo-soprano Sarah Saturnino, soprano Teresa Perrotta and tenor Chandler Johnson. The artists will perform Spanish sets, as well as French, Scandinavian and German songs, respectively.
Perrotta has never sang in Portuguese before, and as she gets farther into her profession, her chance to participate in recitals and try new pieces will diminish.
“It’s really nice to come here and be able to learn some new music and music I’ve never even heard before, and just explore a whole new set of Spanish art songs,” Perrotta said. “It needs to be exposed more, and this is a great opportunity to do this.”
The Spanish music being performed originated from the work of Generation ’27, a group of poets who popularized Spanish poetry in the 1920s. The writers in that band of people were inspired by the works of Baroque poet Luis de Gongora. Eight Spanish composers were close allies of Generation ’27 and composed works from the poems.
The selections come from countries like Brazil, Argentina and Spain, which all have different dialects. The artists won’t just sing in Spanish, but will also sing in the native dialect in which the piece was written, which upholds the integrity of musicianship, Johnson said. Johnson will perform ritual music from indigenous areas of South America. Some of the songs are hymns to gods, and some are simple pieces. He has been working to invoke the message of each piece through storytelling and his interpretation.
“If there are native Spanish speakers in the audience, they will want to hear their language because it’s not something they get to hear every day,” Saturnino said.
Saturnino first heard the lullaby “Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito” by Xavier Montsalvatge in graduate school. At the time, she didn’t know what the song was called, and she would often sing it to her Spanish-speaking friends to see if they recognized it. Voth showed Saturnino the selections for the recital, and the piece was one of the options. Saturnino is looking forward to performing it.
Spain ranks 11th in the list of countries that performed the most operas in the 2017- 18 season, according to Operabase. However, none of the operas on the list of most-performed texts were written in Spanish.
A recital is a great place to expose people to new pieces of music in different languages, Saturnino said, because people go to recitals to hear something they’ve never heard before.
“That doesn’t mean they don’t love the classics, but they’re exploring their options now,” Saturnino said. “They want to be excited about hearing something for the first time.”
It’s easy for a person to enjoy classical composers like Strauss and Mozart, but dedicating most of a recital to a rarely heard language pushes for diverse listening, Johnson said.
“Composition is not just a Western language — it’s also a universal language. Programming pieces like (these) … I think it will awaken the audience to see there are so much other music out there that they can appreciate.”
-Chandler Johnson, Young Artist, Chautauqua Opera Company