Who needs cherry blossoms when you have baritone José Sacín’s voice in full bloom?
Fern-like, tropical trees line the Source Theatre’s audience entrance to invite us into a lush, breezy-cool nightclub staging. We are seated in a tiered grandstand arrangement. Six tables in a semi-circle, confronting an upright piano against white fabric and leaf-patterned backdrops, create a sense of intimacy. This is the first of a series of three, different In Series cabaret concerts, celebrating Latino classics.
Sacin’s lion-like stage presence and rich baritone voice never lets down for over a hour of first-class, superb operatic-caliber singing. Performed in this informal ambiance, Sacín uses direct audience eye-contact in an engaging manner. He is speaking to us, of his love of his homeland, as if he feels every word in the lyrics from Spanish bolaros (slow-tempo songs), closest to his heart.
His accompanist Mari Paz, theatrically dressed, in silver-metallic, lamé jacket, at the keyboard plays with flawless fluidity from memory, without musical score. In this concert, Paz, who does her own instrumental arrangements, proved herself an artist in her own stratosphere. As a duo, she and Sacín go back ten years, a significant tidbit. Perched on the piano bench, she told us that she is an American, born in Cuba, but whose “heart and music are Mexican.” Throughout this rich program, Sacín and Paz anchored their recital with cheery, upbeat, personal anecdotes, about mentors and history that inspired them.
The renowned Mexican songwriter, Agustin Lara’s hypnotizing “Solamente una vez,” (Only One Time), about how deep-seeded love is a miracle that only happens once in a lifetime, ignited the passion in Sacín’s magnificent voice. Sacín’s thrilling baritone and excellent diction have only grown better. (I’ve been following his career for five years.) This singer clearly enunciated lyrics in Spanish, and captured the fatalism of long phrases like “Only one time/And never again/….” Printed translations by Barbara H. Phillips, handed out by the ushers, clarify the lyrics.
From this point on, the selections built in intensity. And lighting design by Marianne Meadows modulated the intensity of each musical number with spot-on stage lighting. Here are some highpoints from this showcase of not-to-be-missed, memorable Latino oldies.
Sacín, who chatted with us between songs, telling us of his love for his homeland, Peru, is a connoisseur of song choices, that could be compared to opera’s finest bel canto arias. Sacín introduced Chabuca Granda, a.k.a. “the soul of Peru,” a famous female songwriter, who popularized undervalued songs with an Afro-Peruvian beat. In “Puente de Los Suspiros” (The Bridge of Sighs), Granda rhapsodized about how lovers stroll through the Barranco, a picturesque barrio in Lima, to carve their names in a bridge. The elaborate imagery is tenderly rendered with hushed pianissimo, exquisitely shaded, by Sacín. Then, for flourish and accents like a beating heart, Sacín beat his palms on a cajón, the box drum, that originated in Peru from slaves who used Spanish shipping crates found on wharfs.
Then, in a delightful reversal of roles. Mari Paz had a moment of glory by rendering with dramatic flair a syncopated instrumental piece by Chabuca Granda, “Señó Manuel,” accompanied by Sacín on the cajón. A delightful reversal of roles.
But what made this concert most rewarding was the way Sacín shared how Latin America has harbored and created the backdrop for female composers of well-known Latino love songs. Mari Paz added her part by confiding a relatively obscure story about one of the most famous of all.
Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velásquez, who was 15 years old, never been kissed before and thought kissing a sin, wrote the internationally-famous “Bésame” (“Kiss Me”). In the song, Velázquez pleads with her imaginary lover: “Kiss me, kiss me many times,/As if tonight were the last time/For I’m scared to lose you/….” Perched on the piano bench, Paz added with twinkly-eyed relish: “Consuelo wrote this song with such passion….when women were second class citizens.” Paz further told us that this song contrasts with another female Mexican songwriter, Maria Grever, who wrote “Alma mia” (“My Soul”), emphasizing love from the soul, to be performed later after intermission.
In the context of Paz’ revelations, when Sacín sang “Bésame” (“Kiss Me”), the lyrics came across as an invocation to innocence. Yet this song from the heart is wild with pent up passion. It was spectacular when Sacín pulled out all the stops. His impassioned voice nailed our spines to our seats, the audience went wild with “bravo, bravo,” and brought down the house.
Jose Sacin: April 19
Five Stars: April 20 and 21
1835 14th St., NW,
Washington, DC 20009
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It seemed fitting that Sacín chose as an encore, “La flor de la canela” (“Cinnamon Flower”), by poet/composer Chabuca Granda, who is so revered by Peruvians that this song is a great unifier, like a national anthem. Many in the audience clapped along to its rhythm.
Abel Lopez, GALA’s Associate Producing Director deserves praise for conceiving this well-paced, fascinating cabaret. We left happier, in connection with a larger universe and at peace. Latino bolaro music can do that for you.
Sung in Spanish with translated English printouts by Barbara H. Phillips
Cabaret Latino., Part I of a two-part series celebrating Favorite Romantic Latino Song and Singers . Featuring José Sacín and Mari Paz . Concept by Abel Lopez and Greg Stevens . Lighting by Marianne Meadows . Produced by The In Series Pocket Opera Company . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.