The "Great Performances" presentation of Linda Ronstadt's musical "Canciones de mi Padre" ("Songs of My Father") makes for worthwhile viewing tonight despite an awkwardly slow start. (It airs at 9:10 on Channels 28 and 24 and at 10 on Channel 15.)
The first snag in this production, most of which consists of an edited version of a performance at San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre last November, is its introduction.
Set against shots of Sonoran desert, Ronstadt, sometimes on horseback, begins by expressing pride in the Mexican part of her ancestry and its deep Southwestern musical roots. But an attempt to introduce this full-blown musical as a "Romantic Evening in Old Mexico" comes off as a bit quaint.
The original stage production, which takes the name of her Grammy-winning album, didn't require this sort of packaging, explanation or translation. Camera work in the first musical segment also seems distant and awkward.
Don't lose heart, though. The rest of the show more than makes up for the initial shortcomings when the cameras discover Tony Walton's gorgeous, seemingly hand-embroidered set designs and the colorful, Michael Smuin-choreographed dance interludes.
Ronstadt is compelling in the "Corridos" ("Storysong") segment, set against fanciful, moonlit plazas and churches. Her command of the romantic ballads and malaguena- like huapangos, such as "El Crucifijo de Piedra," is devastating, perhaps her greatest strength when singing Mexican music. When she is paired with Daniel Valdez, their careful, controlled phrasing of "El Sol Que Tu Eres" ("The Sun That You Are") cuts clear of cloying melodrama to rediscover the song's starkly modern lyricism.
Valdez, moreover, deserves special mention. He has a stage presence, expressiveness and comic vocal turns reminiscent of a younger Piporro. This show would have been unthinkable without Valdez.