Gian-Carla Tisera & Elio Villafranca: Nora la Bella

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Nora La Bella
Nora la Bella may not be the only recording where an operatic soprano has made a crossover from the classical realm into music of another idiom in recent times. After all, the renowned soprano, Kathleen Battle did so in 1994-5 with So Many Stars (Sony) and even earlier than her, Barbara Hendrix, that other stellar soprano recorded a whole programme of George Gershwin’s music with Katia and Marielle Lebèque (Philips, 1981). But this recording, Nora la Bella is unique in many respects. Here, the soprano Gian-Carla Tisera takes music from various idioms and sings them as operatic arias in Spanish and English. The recording also features several revolutionary songs famous in Latin America. The music—a collaboration between Ms. Tisera and the Grammy-nominated pianist and musician, Elio Villafranca—is edgy and brilliant. Its energy is turbulent and visceral, and beautiful. This has much to do with placing an exquisite-voiced soprano in the heart of the musical landscape of Bolivia and all of Latin America, as a matter of fact. And here, Ms. Tisera is particularly ingenious. She sings with wondrous colouratura, in employing motifs and melismas awoken by radical ideas and revolutionary recitatives. This seems to have been awoken by the revolutionary ideals of the sprung from the heartland of Latin America where Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara are still hailed as heroes who saved countries from colonialism. Her music is also dramatically transformed by generational folklore, melded with Afro-centric and Spanish influences; just enough to suggest jazz idioms. And this is what makes it such an extraordinary recording.

Part of the uniqueness of the recording is that Ms. Tisera has a radiant personality and this shines through in her music. She is able to create a tug at the heartstrings and a leap in in the soul with music that describes her grandmother and her mother’s courage in the face of enormous adversity. This physical and spiritual melisma is heart-rending not simply because of the pristine nature of her voice, but also the dramaturgy of her recitatives, in “Nora la Bella,” “Luz y Madre” and in “Mujer, Niña y Amiga.” Themes of the strength of women abound elsewhere as well, but it is not without pain that this ascension of the woman takes place. The physical aspect of the emotion attached to women—mothers and grandmothers, and eventually to the heart of Ms. Tisera as well—is palpable. Themes of revolution also abound. Above all, Ernesto “Che” Guevara is revered. While this may be a somewhat controversial stance taken by the artist it must be emphasised that there is a romantic element that cannot be ignored too, especially when harking back to the ideals of Che Guevara, and even though it is unsaid, of Simon Bolivar as well. The music here has a dark almost colour and is almost viscous in the handling of the tone textures by Elio Villafranca. Examples of this fine music can be found in “Ernesto in the Tomb” and “The People United”. There is also a spectacular example also in the song based on the words that Che was known to utter when he was departing from his revolutionary colleagues: “Hasta Siempre.”

Elio Villafranca, the other protagonist in this recording, is spectacular as always. His pianism is flawless. His work here is reminiscent of what an accompanist in Lieder is all about: He knows when to shine and when to withdraw from the limelight. This is true of all great Lieder pianists especially those who perform the works of Franz Schubert and Gustav Mahler. Not only Mr. Villafranca, but all of the other musicians as well are perfect for this performance. For instance, while bassist Luques Curtis is sublime, bassist John Benitez performs a miraculous set on “Alfonsina y el mar,” that other classic folkloric melody so embedded in the fabric of Latin America. However, all is not dark and grim and revolutionary. Gian-Carla Tisera is witty too and the charts “Señora Chichera” and “Lejania” are good examples. And “Amarilli” is just plain radiant and beautiful. With this recording, Ms. Tisera’s career may be going places where she never dreamt it would go. And she will be adored as well.

Track List: Señora Chichera; Malagueña; Nora la Bella; Luz y Madre; Mujer, Niña y Amiga; Intermission; Ernesto in the Tomb; The People United; Amarilli; Alfonsina y el mar; La Ilorona; Hasta Siempre; Lejania.

Personnel: Gian-Carla Tisera: voice, piano (4); Elio Villafranca: piano; Luques Curtis: bass; Reynaldo de Jesus: congas, bongó, djembé, cajón, castanets and minor percussion; Yayo Serka: drums, bombo legüero, ch’askas and cajón (3, 13); John Benitez: bass (1, 3, 10); Diego Urcola: trumpet and trombone (1, 3); Jay Rodriguez: saxophone (8) and clarinet (9); Manuel Romero: coro; Ray Viera: coro.

Label: Self-Produced | Release date: August 2014

Website: giancarlatisera.com/ | Buy music on: amazon

About Gian-Carla Tisera

Any true fusion in music represents a delicate negotiation. It requires both respect for the different genres in play, their traditions and codes and a ‘why not?’ attitude. Cutting-and-pasting is one thing, translating the approach, technique and sensibility of one tradition to another demands a special talent and commitment. On Nora La Bella, her debut recording, New York-based Bolivian soprano Gian-Carla Tisera makes bold, daring crossings between opera, jazz and Latin American folk music, art song and political song, experimentation and roots music. Throughout the recording, she sings in English, Spanish, Italian and Quechua. Co-produced by Tisera and Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist Elio Villafranca, Nora La Bella includes original songs, provocative versions of two works from the classical vocal repertoire and several pieces from the Latin American songbook, including a couple from the socially committed Nueva Canción. Read more…