Friday 21 July 2017

Classic talk: Madrid and its many musical marvels

Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza, circa 1965.
Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza, circa 1965.

George Hamilton

To Madrid during the week for the final time in this football season. A chance to experience again the splendours of the Spanish capital, not least the magnificence of the Prado Museum and the exquisite escape from the bustling streetscape that the lush green acres and the boating lake of the Retiro Park provide.

Oddly enough, its roster of famous musicians down the ages is on the short side compared to other locations. The best known of the Spanish composers came from elsewhere.

Taking an anti-clockwise sweep around the country, Isaac Albeniz began life in the province of Girona near the French border. Enrique Granados hailed from Lleida (Lérida in Castillian Spanish).

Francisco Tárrega was from Castellón, Joaquín Rodrigo from a little further south in Valencia. Manuel de Falla was born in Cádiz on Spain's southwest coast.

Yet the musical life of Madrid is rich. The city has had a conservatory since 1830, and boasts no fewer than three symphony orchestras. The Teatro Real de Madrid, its opera house, is one of the finest in the world, with a repertory to match.

When it comes to performers, there's no long list of famous names either, but those who do stand out are shining stars.

Plácido Domingo was born in Madrid, though, funnily enough, he had much of his musical education in Mexico. His parents were zarzuela singers - zarzuela is a Spanish version of light opera - and they relocated to central America to set up a company of their own. Plácido was eight at the time.

He learned the piano first of all, and only took to voice lessons later. Those were to lead him on to the greatest opera stages of the world and an illustrious career that is still going strongly at the age of 76. The years have lowered the range of that magnificent tenor voice and it's a rich baritone you'll hear these days. Or indeed you may hear the music he's coaxing from others because he has developed a highly successful second string to his bow as an orchestral conductor.

And he hasn't forgotten the music that helped make him. The album 100 Years of Mariachi - released in 1999 (EMI Classics 0724355675521) - was his tribute to the distinctive sound of Mexico.

Among Spanish divas, Teresa Berganza is Madrid's most celebrated. Born in 1935, she studied at the city's conservatory, winning its first prize for singing in 1954. Her concert debut came the following year.

A mezzo-soprano, her performances have taken her right across the musical spectrum from the Baroque to the 20th century, from Handel and Vivaldi to Stravinsky.

Mozart has been her speciality, with an album dedicated to the composer released as long ago as 1963 - Teresa Berganza sings Mozart.

It never made it to CD, but you might just pick up a vinyl version, and if you do, you won't fail to be blown away, with the first two tracks particular highlights - The Marriage of Figaro arias Non si più, and Voi che sapete.

Berganza was part of the distinguished cast at the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, singing alongside Domingo, Monserrat Caballé and José Carreras.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

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