IU Latin American Music Center prepares Valentine concert for Feb. 13

By Holly Hays Special to the Herald-Times

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When it premiered in 1876 in Bogota, Colombia, El Castillo misterioso told a story of a love triangle wrapped in theft, murder and mistaken identities. 

By the time the Jacobs School of Music's Latin American Popular Music Ensemble (LAPME) performs it on Feb. 13, it will not have been performed in public for 137 years.

The piece, a Latin American zarzuela influenced by Italian bel canto, is one of three to be performed during the Latin American Music Center's fifth annual Latin American Valentine event. This year's performance features three zarzuelas or Latin American operettas.

The three zarzuelas featured in this year's performance include the Colombian El Castillo misterioso; "Cecilia Valdés," is a Cuban zarzuela based on a novel by the same name; and "Cofresí" is rooted in the story of Roberto Confresi, a renowned Puerto Rican pirate.

Music and vocals will be provided by current and former students from the Jacobs School of Music and will also feature guest performers from the LAMC.

Zarzuelas originated in 19th century Spain, but made their way to Spanish-speaking Latin America, where they took on a form of their own, said Erick Caballo, interim director of the LAMC.

"Even though they take from the tradition that is coming from Europe, they have a definite tainted color of different traditions from each country," he said.

This year's production manager, Yuri Rodriguez, said each of the pieces has roots in a different Latin American country, with segments from Cuban, Colombian and Puerto Rican zarzuelas being featured in the program.

"It's a lyric genre that combines classical music with folklore, traditional music, and stories and aesthetics of Latin America," she said. "If you compare it to opera, it's much lighter in the music and it's much lighter in the themes that it touches on."

Caballo said the choice to perform zarzuelas this year made sense, since the pieces are based in love stories.

"Love is such a prevalent thing for the zarzuela," Caballo said. "We thought it would be appropriate for that."

Caballo, who is originally from Costa Rica, said he will also be performing with the ensemble during the show. He said he is honored to perform with the Latin American Popular Music Ensemble because it allows him to revisit his roots.

"In Costa Rica, as a musician, I was always involved in performing popular music," he said. "It is always nice to be in touch with that older part."

Rodriguez, also a native of Costa Rica, echoed that sentiment. Rodriguez was originally a soprano understudy, but was bumped up to the show when the original performer discovered she would not be able to perform.

"When you perform music that is from your own culture, the expressivity just multiplies completely and the joy of performing your own music multiplies," she said.

Rodriguez said this year's lineup differs from previous shows due to its uniqueness to Indiana University, as this will be the first time Jacobs School of Music students will have performed zarzuelas.

She added that the team has been working diligently to arrange a show that features music that, in the case of El Castillo misterioso, has not been performed in hundreds of years.

"Because this music didn't exist in audio and some of it didn't exist in paper, we have two arrangers and two composers that have been working really, really hard to create the music from scratch," she said.

One of the guest music directors, Carlos Botero, said the group has been preparing the pieces since the beginning of the fall semester. He said his job right now is to finish polishing the pieces so they are performance-ready.

"I am making sure everything sounds the way I think the composer wrote it," he said.

He said it has been exciting to work with a group of performers who come from different ethnic backgrounds. He said the cultural variation adds to the overall feeling of the music.

Botero, a native of Colombia, compared the mixing of cultures and performance preparation to preparing a meal.

"(It is important to) be sure we play with the right flavor. Too much of one or too few of the other, it won't come out right," he said. "I like the food analogy because that's what Latin culture is all about: music and food."

Rodriguez said the music, though it will be performed in Spanish and is a repertoire largely unknown to the audience, will resonate with those in attendance because of its beauty.

"People will relate to it, even though the words are unknown," she said. "Everything sounds familiar to the ear."

She said the music is easy to digest, carries light themes and presents melodies that will stick with audience members long after the performance is over.

"I am a great fan of melodies," she said. "There are all kinds of beautiful music, but these zarzuelas have melodies that really stick to your ears."

Rodriguez said she has enjoyed the fusion that the zarzuelas present and hopes the audience members will leave the concert singing.

"The result of combining traditional, popular and Latin American music and classical turned out to be a really beautiful result," she said.