Carmen Linares, Arcángel & Marina Heredia
Tempo of Light
London, Sadler’s Wells
14 February 2018
Once again, Andalucía has come to Islington for the annual Flamenco Festival, at Sadler’s Wells, and what a way to start, appropriately, on Valentine’s Day! This was flamenco puro in its most fabulous form, dominated – as it should be – by the voice, led by three of the most celebrated of today’s star flamenco singers. It doesn’t get much better.
The opening Bulería, the Tempo de Luz of the programme’s title, set the scene for a magnificent concert with the mellifluous tenor voice of Arcángel, in stark contrast to the rasping, free-flowing gypsy song that is most popularly associated with flamenco cante. In common with most of the early songs, this opening number was full of sadness both in the Neruda-style verse and melody.
Arcángel – his stage name is a middle given name of Francisco José Arcángel Ramos – is at the forefront of a new generation of flamenco singers with a voice that can deliver the deep, expressive power of flamenco and yet – as in Tempo de Luz – can also appear as fluid as an operatic tenor.
He is joined by Marina Heredia, like so many in the close-knit world of flamenco, a daughter and granddaughter of exceptional flamenco singers (her father is Jaime Heredia “El Parrón”; and his mother, the celebrated gypsy cantaora, Rosa Heredia “La Rochina”). Heredia has beauty, dignity and elegance – like an Italian film star of the 1950s – to go with the rich diversity of her mercurial voice, which sweetly dominated both the Tangos and the Alegrías.
But, despite their exquisite and soulful voices, both Arcángel and Heredia are just an excellent supporting cast for the legendary cante jondo (deep song) passion of Carmen Linares – the concert’s headline star. I don’t usually reference age in reviews but I’ll break my own rule by mentioning that Linares is a few days’ short of her 67th birthday (on 25 February) and anyone seeing her perform live will have difficulty in reconciling the evidence of their eyes with her date of birth! She has an exceptional voice with unbounded expressiveness. I’m a dance writer – not a music critic – but to my untrained ear there is some similarity between her interpretation of cante jondo and the indefinable concept of bel canto (beautiful song) in opera. It seems to have something to do with the similarities of surprising power in a vocal range that can switch registers effortlessly.
Linares is one of many flamenco stars to take her stage name from the place in which she was born (the Andalucían city of Linares replacing her real name, Pacheco). At 67, it was not surprising that her lead performances in Tempo de Luz were well managed but when she dominated, always standing – as in El Canto de la Resignación – it was to give a virtuosic display of the gypsy roots of flamenco song.
I have waxed lyrical before about the outstanding artistry of Ana Morales, formerly a principal dancer with Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía. She featured in just a couple of the fifteen numbers but what an impact! Statuesque poses; sultry, seductive sensuality; swivelling hands and wrists; and locomotive, percussive, rhythmic zapateado (footwork).
The confrontation between dance and song as Morales and Linares faced each other was exciting and her final appearance in a gorgeous pale green bata de cola, using her unseen legs to sweep the long, frilled train of her dress as an integral part of the dance, as was her exquisite blue mantón (fringed shawl), decorated with an inlaid red floral pattern. My grandmother used to say that “blue and green should never be seen” but I think she might have changed her mind with the alluring vivacity of this costume combination.
This extraordinary show – which required no fancy set or lighting, just a backdrop of some hanging drapes onto which were projected images of stars and flowers – was expertly directed by Isidro Muñoz and the four lead performers (to include Morales) were well served by the flamenco guitars of Miguel Ángel Cortes and José Quevedo “Bolita” and the pervasive percussion of Paquito González.
A great start to the Flamenco Festival and there are six more shows to enjoy!