Balada’s opera Cristóbal Colón
in the mid-1980s and premiered in September 1989 with Montserrat
Caballé and José Carreras as Queen Isabella and
Cristóbal Colón (Naxos 8.660237/8 - see review
was followed about a decade later by this sequel, Death of
the later opera has the same layout with a number of relatively
in this case interspersed with recurring visits to Colón’s
death-bed, the scenes being flash-backs and even flash-forwards.
In the death-bed scenes a Mysterious Character is omnipresent
- a personification of Colón’s bad conscience. He
often expresses himself in recitative or in plain speech. In
the background a chorus of monks sing Ave verum corpus
which also is the first thing we hear in the opera - after an
ominous timpani roll.
As in the predecessor the choral music is always fresh, rhythmically
incisive and suggestive, and Balada differentiates well the elegiac
death-bed scenes opposite the ‘public’ scenes, filled
with overt drama. There is some slight exoticism in the Indian
scenes: an Indian woman singing beautiful and rather sad vocalises
(CD 1 tr. 3), a group of Indians in the following scene, more
aggressive and ecstatic, and, a musical highlight, the danza
that opens act II (CD 2 tr. 1) - powerful and defiant.
The central theme in the opera is the accusations from the surrounding
world against Colón: his failure to obey orders, his maltreatment
of the Indians, his neglect of his beloved Beatrix and in a kind
of imaginary sequence Colón encounters the real heroes,
who really did something conclusive: Vespucci, Magellan, Bolívar
and Zapata. It is indeed a horrifying tale, a man becoming immortal
in his lifetime , thanks no doubt to his visions and stubbornness,
but who in the end, in the final scene Forgive me!
deeply touching, when he turns to God and ‘all of you whom
I have disappointed’ and asks for forgiveness. And his
lasts words, in the opera as well as reportedly in real life,
are Into your hands, O Lord, I command my spirit.
The musical language is rather tonal in the vocal parts, considerably
harsher in the orchestra without being forbidding. This is powerful
and often atmospheric orchestral writing and in the final scene
there are also inserted recorded fragments from the previous
opera and electronic sounds, conveying the impression of everything
- the world of Colón - is falling to pieces. As a composition
this work is possibly more unified than its predecessor but I
still prefer Cristóbal Colón
for its more
overtly dramatic approach and greater individuality. There are
also more memorable ‘numbers’ there. But also this
opera has great individual moments: the scene Beloved ones!
2 tr. 3), where the two women who meant so much to Colón,
Beatrix and Isabella, accuse him out of different points of view
and their voices blend in a beautiful duet; also the final scene,
where Jon Garrison rises to formidable vocal and dramatic heights.
His voice has some similarities with José Carreras’s
- who sang the role in the first opera. Judith Jenkins’s
Isabella and Katherine Mueller’s Beatrix are also great
assets to this recording, and so is David Okerlund as the Mysterious
Character: impressive and expressive.
Robert Page has done an admirable job with his choral and orchestral
forces - this is definitely not easy-to-perform music - and the
recording team have ensured that the vocal and orchestral textures
are well reproduced.
I am not sure that this opera - or its predecessor - will enter
the canon of repertoire works, and thus these recordings will
probably be the only way of hearing them. Readers who have already
tried and liked Cristóbal Colón,
definitely give this sequel a chance as well. Those not yet under
the spell of Balada are advised to try Cristóbal Colón