Spanish classical music, like Latin music in nearly every idiom until very recently, has been shunted onto a side road from the mainstream for too long because it has its own world of sound that doesn't follow Central European rhythmic, harmonic and structural rules. Yet, filling a program with tuneful, succinct compositions by the three big names, Isaac Albeniz, Enrique Granados and Manuel de Falla, ought to be a sure-fire crowd pleaser if executed with any minimal degree of rhythmic feeling and emotional power.
And if you add the smoldering mezzo-soprano of Los Angeles Opera's Suzanna Guzman, plus some sultry Spanish summer weather--which indeed was the case with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra's "A Night in Spain" at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre Saturday night--you can't miss.
In this case, it was Falla who made the biggest impression, the deck being stacked at the concert's back end in favor of the first part of his "The Three-Cornered Hat" and the entire "El Amor Brujo" ballet.
Prior to Falla, an objective, not-too-sentimental performance of Granados' Intermezzo from "Goyescas," a somewhat underpowered orchestral transcription of Albeniz's "Asturias" (from "Suite Espagnola") and a decently played Granados Danza "Oriental" (from "Danzas Espagnolas") basically served as warmups.
Even though the singer's role in "The Three-Cornered Hat" excerpt is just a brief cameo at the outset, Guzman's full-blooded, fervent invocation seemed to galvanize the rest of the performance. Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega's conducting picked up added sweep and energy; the orchestra's playing--save for some slightly frayed violins in rapid exposed passages--improved noticeably.
Guzman threw herself completely into the text of "El Amor Brujo," singing with controlled dramatic fury, engaging in heated, semi-staged, interpolated dialogues with flamenco dancer Maria "ChaCha" Bermudez. Although Bermudez's dancing, placed way to the rear of the orchestra, was difficult to see from the first few rows, you could definitely hear her stamping out a loud percussive tattoo to the "Ritual Fire Dance."