Seville has been quite the cultural hotspot over the past few weeks, with the Placido Domingo Festival, followed by the Seville Film Festival. Both have been high-profile, well-attended events which have brought international attention to the city for overwhelmingly positive, uplifting reasons – a welcome change from the usual media focus on economic doom and gloom.
I managed to make it to one concert and three films, which is not a fantastic showing, but all four gave me plenty to think (and write) about.
When I saw the programme for the music festival, hopefully the first of an annual tradition, the two events which grabbed me were the opera Thais, starring Domingo himself, and a Jazz and Blues concert at the Alcazar. Other events included piano and guitar recitals, but the hottest ticket by far was the maestro in the lead role of Massenet’s opera at the Maestranza theatre. It was to be the first time Placido had sung here in Seville since the Expo in 1992.
As the maestro’s performance only had a limited amount of press tickets available (or at least that’s what they told me), I settled for the only non-classical event. This was a very satisfactory proposition, since I love jazz and blues and, even better, a night-time concert in Seville’s royal palace is an experience in itself.
At the press launch of the festival, I was intrigued to see the great tenor himself. Now in his 70s, he was surprisingly quietly-spoken and seemed genuinely pleased to have been invited to head up this festival, which took place in two cities this year – Seville (its base) and Malaga; the second city may change to Cordoba or Granada in subsequent years. Domingo is still very active, although has largely switched to baritone roles now, he told us.
Among the other performers there to meet the press were the two lady singers who would be performing at the jazz concert – both American: a slim blonde (Micaela) and a warm African-American (Angel). They knew each other already, having performed together on various occasions, were very chatty, and seemed delighted to be in Seville for the festival – the delights of the city must be an added bonus for artistes who have to stay here for an extended period.
Thursday 1 November was a national holiday here in Spain, an ideal day to dress up a bit and go to a superb night of music at my favourite palace in Seville. I went with a friend who had already been to another concert earlier in the week, and had been most impressed by the music and general set-up. Everyone was smartly dressed for the concert, with sequins and bling in evidence, and my friend said people were more glam that night than at the event she had attended.
An email had informed me that as press we weren’t allowed to take photos of the concert, so I just took a few iPhone shots of the surroundings, hence the less-than-crystal-clear-sharpness of these images. The first two, of the performers themselves at the concert, are official photographs – though they’re not quite up to the standard of mine, obviously.
The heady atmosphere of a warm autumn evening (for it was not raining) was enhanced by the nice men from Tio Pepe behind tables groaning with glasses of wine and sherry. Nothing to complete the experience like a drop of free alcohol (in moderation in my case; I was driving).
Walking into the room where the concert was about to start, I was struck by what a special venue these concerts in the festival had. Historic tapestries showing Carlos V’s military victories hang on the walls, which have seen centuries of royal celebrations. We sat on extremely posh upholstered red velvet chairs, and it all felt very sophisticated. Walking through the palace, on the way to the Salones where the concert and reception were held, Moroccan lanterns had been placed on the floor, giving a marvellously medieval feel to the passageways and alcoves.
With such a build-up, the concert had to deliver big-time. And it did. The two young sopranos were both outstanding, and the audience lapped up the programme of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin classics. Angel has a rich voice, which suited such classics as Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and Mack the Knife and, for me her high point, It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. Her “ba-bam, ba-bam”s were as good as any chanteuse’s, and she looked like she was having the time of her life. The girl’s got style (and rhythm too, obviously) – a natural on the stage with abundant star quality.
Micaela’s selection include Anything Goes and La Vie En Rose, which she sung with great animation; her voice is more classical. They also sang some duets, starting off with Cole Porter`s Friendship. Somehow the singers’ elegant evening frocks and the setting went beautifully with the period which most of the songs were from – the 1920s and 1930s.
These two singers complemented each other perfectly, and after an interval where we enjoyed more complimentary vino de jerez, including straight from the barrel poured from on high by a maestro with the steadiest hand I’ve ever seen, the concert resumed. Our evening rounded off with the Irving Berlin number, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better – which was a great opportunity for some playful vocal one-upmanship. Angel and Micaela repeated this as part of the encore – the repartee looked as much fun for them to perform, as it was for us in the audience to watch.
While the concerts at the Maestranza were quite pricey, the Alcazar ones were subject to a voluntary donation to the Banco de Alimentacion (Food Bank). A very reasonable arrangement for seeing such superb performances in a such a magical venue; the presence of Placido Domingo at many of the concerts added extra cachet. I am sure I’m not the only one who is hoping very much that the festival is not a one-off.