The In Series, one of DC’s local artistic treasures, mounts an earnest and breezy series of cabaret evenings billed as Carousel Latino.
The second evening is Cancionero Latino: A Latino Romantic Songbook. Another DC treasure, in fact, another world treasure, Mari Paz, directed the music and plays piano and occasionally speaks to the audience about growing up in Cuba learning piano, mentored by greats like Mario Ruiz Armengol, Roberto Perez Vasquez and other iconic composers featured throughout the evening.
The first evening started in Spain, but for this night, all are Latin American, including the two singers, Alex Alburqueque and Lorena Sabogal, both originally from Peru. They open and close the evening with two Peruvian waltzes and spend the intervening moments exploring the continent with boleros from Mexico and Cuba, tangos from Argentina and more.
Nobody does romance better. Alburqueque has a strong, gorgeous baritone as he tackles “Esta Tarde Vi Llover” (I Saw It Rain This Afternoon) with aplomb. The crowd went wild for “El Triste” (The Sad One”), made famous by the Latin Frank Sinatra José José. Sabogal also had something to say about women composer’s place in this genre, singing “Ama Mia” (My Soul) by Maria Grever. She also killed it on the sassy “Yo soy asi p’al amor) (That’s How I Am).
They have an easy chemistry together, waltzing at one point and pouring charisma into duets like “Mucho Corazon” (A Lot of Heart).
With grand dame Mari Paz at the piano, and two young stars singing all the classics, I felt gifted to be in the audience, privileged to visit our southern neighbors for an evening.
The first evening, Lady Of Spain is a collection of popular classics, famous opera arias and less well-known gems strung together by director Elizabeth Pringle who also creates an informal and deliberately funny atmosphere as the two stars banter back and forth between songs.
The songs are connected only by their relationship to Spain and perhaps not coincidentally to love, from operas and songs by everyone from Mozart to Rossini. Mezzo-Soprano Patricia Portillo and tenor Nephi Sanchez are the stars accompanied by Music Director and pianist José Cáceres, who unfortunately sometimes stumbles at the piano, but does an impressive job standing in for a full orchestra. The singers are both beautiful. Absent the extreme highs and lows of soprano and bass, it made for a unique evening to appreciate the subtleties of the human voice.
Sanchez starts with the over-the-top yet iconic “Lady of Spain” which suits his happy-go-lucky style. Portillo joins him onstage to sing with a full-bodied and mature tone through the world’s most iconic arias of Spain. A couple of highlights are “Una Voce Poco Fa,” (A Voice Just a While Ago) from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and “Stride La Vampa” (The Fire is Roaring) From Il Trovatore by Verdi, a genuine diva, in the beset sense of the word, playing a stereotypical one.
Sanchez gets serious in the second half with “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (A Secret Tear) from Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. He can pour such emotion into each song.
Their back-and-forth banter, playing up a story between them, seems a distraction, but they don’t banter for long and my favorite songs were their duets. Their voices mix perfectly and are equally at home in the more technically difficult pieces and the pop like “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) by Osvaldo Farres and “Brazil” by Ary Barroso.
The jewel of the set by Greg Stevens, who also directs the second evening, Cancionero Latino, is a series of three paintings of a tree that focus the rest of the silks and paper lanterns of a Spanish courtyard. Lighting by Stefan Johnson helped drench a grey DC day in golden Spanish sun. In Series regular costumer Donna Breslin again impresses with decadent fabrics and a white tuxedo on Sanchez.
This is vintage In Series, a musical history journey through genres, styles, and languages by local stars in an earnest production that worms its way quickly into your heart. Artistic Director Carla Hübner loves to create these unique genre-bending cabarets. If you love a good song by serious composers and superior singers, Carousel Latino makes for a perfect spring treat.
Running time: One hour and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Cancionero Latino has one more performance tonight at 8 PM at Source – 1835 14th Street. NW in Washington, D.C. For tickets call the box office at (202) 204-7763 or purchase them online.