Sharing ‘Latin’ humor and passion

Special to The Times

In his program note for Sunday’s “Living Legends of Latin Music” concert at the Ford Amphitheatre, Opera Nova’s artistic director and conductor, Sean Bradley, offered an interesting notion. He casually suggested a correlation between the ‘20s group of avant-garde Parisian composers known as Les Six and five contemporary composers who might be called “Los Cinco.”

The factors linking this latter group are more arbitrary than artistic: Its members are all well-established mid-career artists who happen to be Latino and based, at least part-time, in Los Angeles. But Sunday’s musical sampler did reveal certain common features, including a vibrancy of ideas, no fear of sensuality or humor, and an infectious passion.

The program’s most substantial offering came after intermission with an abridged, semi-staged version of Daniel Catan’s acclaimed opera “Florencia en el Amazonas.” Commissioned by Houston Opera, which will premiere Catan’s new comic opera this fall, the 1996 “Florencia” is a beauty, solidly built of a neo-Romantic and neo-Impressionist compositional palette.


The Ford’s outdoor setting added to the drama of the hourlong performance, but amplification sometimes marred the sound. Still, singers Shana Blake Hill (Florencia), Suzanna Guzman and Roberto Perlas Gomez performed impressively.

Carlos Rodriguez’s “Fanfarria para Los Angeles,” written in 1993 to celebrate the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 75th anniversary, issued a tart blast of brass to open the evening. It runs against conventional fanfare type, combining tonal ambivalence with a cerebral compositional system partly based on Morse code.

Enrique Gonzalez-Medina’s music shifted from the sublime, in the liturgical choral piece “Sancta Maria,” to the sublimely ridiculous -- his “Siete Poeminimos.” Based on cryptic and sometimes bawdy short poems by Efrain Huerta and boldly, gamely sung by tenor Gabriel Reoyo Pazos, this song cycle couches the playful words in spare, colorful orchestrations and appealing melodies.

Cuban-born composer Aurelio de la Vega, long a pillar of the Los Angeles scene, offered a compact musical autobiography with his “Variacion del Recuerdo.” A nostalgic dream of a string orchestra piece, the work somehow manages to combine traditional Cuban sounds and post-Webern serial writing.

Closing the concert’s first half, the gifted Miguel del Aguila appeared as soloist in one of his seriocomic delights, the Piano Concerto, Opus 57. Terse harmonies and mock melodrama meet in this piece as the pianist rolls out florid keyboard sweeps and occasionally asks orchestral musicians to sing. The music ends up spinning into controlled anarchy, a cockeyed grin intact.