OPERA NEWS - El Cimarrón
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In Review > North America

El Cimarrón 

RIVERSIDE, CT
Greenwich Music Festival 
6/10/10

Music related to Cuba was the focus of this year's Greenwich Music Festival (June 8–13), and its centerpiece was a staged production of Hans Werner Henze's El Cimarrón (The Runaway Slave), a work for singer/narrator and ensemble. Its text is based on the published narrative of Esteban Montejo (1860–1973), a former slave and lifelong resident of Cuba. The historical Montejo lived to be 113 years old, and so lived through the years in which Spain sanctioned slavery, the post-slavery period, the Spanish–American War era and up through Fidel Castro's successful revolution. Indeed, he was still alive when Henze completed El Cimarrón in 1970, although it is not known if Montejo ever heard Henze's creation.

Henze's music is very much a product of the sound world so prevalent in the late 1960s and early '70s. The three instrumentalists — a guitarist, a flutist and a percussionist — make great use of unusual and extended playing techniques, including bowed guitar and percussion, an array of flutes and an enormous battery of percussion instruments. All three of the performers participate in the percussion section. The music is an amalgam of chromatic motifs and timbres that suggest world music. The overall effect of the music is sensual, dramatic and effective. Flutist Claire Chase, guitarist Daniel Lippel and percussionist Nathan Davis are each noted performers in the genre of contemporary music who approached their task here with confidence and tremendous musicality. Under the sure direction of the festival's music director, Robert Ainsley, the ensemble gave a dynamic, colorful performance.

The Festival was fortunate to have baritone Eugene Perry in the role of singer/narrator. Perry's performance, in the excellent English translation of Christopher Keene, was at times mesmerizing as he recounted Montejo's life as a slave, his escape into and life in the jungle, his post-slavery life as a cane-cutter, his role in the overthrow of the Spaniards and his reactions to the American presence in Cuba. This production also required Perry to participate in a certain amount of dance, in which he comported himself admirably.

El Cimarrón does not specifically require staging, but the performance was greatly enhanced by the work of directors Ted Huffman and Zack Winokur. The performances took place in the Theater of St. Catherine of Sienna in Riverside, Connecticut. The theater space is in the low-ceilinged basement of the church, which rules out the possibility of elaborate sets. Huffman and Winokur impressively relied on creative use of lighting and highly athletic dancing to convey the drama in a meaningful yet unobtrusive way. All four dancers — Manelich Minniefee, Andrew Murdoch, Jose Tena and Yara Travieso — performed gracefully and with dramatic aplomb. spacer 

ARLO MCKINNON

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