Tuesday, June 09, 2009

When one of your artistic influences dies...

You know? it is funny and it is not when you find yourself in the position to eulogize someone who died 4 years ago. Today I find myself in that position not because it took me this long, but because I just learned of her death. This will mean nothing to many, but the fact is still that Ginamaria Hidalgo was a very strong influence in my artistic life.

How could this be? Well, in Latin America, there is a strong tradition of Bohemia music and singing. Americans think they invented crossover. Well, Ginamaria was one of the first singers to achieve true crossover success. She was a crossover success before Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.

Not only was she a pioneer of crossover, she did it right. With her it didn't have the feeling of someone singing something that was somehow beneath her. When she sang, God! she sang. Her rendition of Silvio Rodriguez's song Mi unicornio azul (My Blue Unicorn) rivaled the author's in pathos and simplicity of delivery. You heard Ginamaria sing this song and you just expected that unicorn to come back with his head low asking for forgiveness. Somehow it was the same with Schubert's Ave Maria. In her voice, this song was transformed from a prayer to a statement of faith. I never sang it better!

Ginamaria Hidalgo performed opera, boleros, tangos, bohemia and many other genres always with impeccable style and never achieving anything less than sublime artistry. This is what crossover singing of high caliber was about. This is was singing of high caliber was about, never mind the style.

I saw Ginamaria in concert 20 years ago in a theater in my father's home town and what I witnessed that day was an artist in full possession of her voice; capable of reaching the pinnacle of artistry so many of us wish for, but so little actually achieve. From that day I was a fan. I saw someone using her voice in the service of a song, it didn't matter whether you are singing opera or pop. Her voice was an instrument in the hands of the composer in ways I wish mine ever was. So to her I owe a debt of gratitude because she showed me how you can still use your technique and create music of infinite beauty, how a simple song can transport an audience to realms never imagined; how a 900-seat theater can be as intimate as your living room.

In her honor, here are 2 songs that I heard her sing that night 20 years ago. The first one is the Carlos Gardel song El dia que me quieras, the 2nd one is the waltz La pulpera de Santa Lucia. I chose to sing this last song on a recital after hearing her rendition and loving what she did with it.

Gracias Maestra...

Translation of El dia que me quieras

The housekeeper of Santa Lucia
She was blond and her blue eyes
reflected the glory of daylight
and she sang like a lark in a meadow,
the shopkeeper of Santa Lucia.
She was prized in the entire parrish,
how could any gaucho not want her,
and the soldiers of all the four quarters,
sighed with longing behind the shop’s counter.
A Mazorquero sang a song to this beauty
with the sweet moan of ancient guitars
surrounded by the scent of jasmines
in a courtyard with wrought-iron bars.
“With my soul, I love you, shopkeeper
and one day you will have to be mine
while all night in Santa Lucia
the guitars will continue to whine.”
But it was a man of Lavalle
who took her away in the forties,
and her blue eyes no longer sparkle
in the parish of Santa Lucia.
Never more did the soldiers of Rosas
sing their songs to the lovely shopkeeper,
and the jasmines wept on the fences
jealous for they could not keep her.
One last time the bard sang his love song
in the courtyard now empty without her –
a painful serenade to his loved one
that the wind carried down river.
“Where are you, my blue-eyed shopkeeper
who never turned out to be mine?
The guitars of Santa Lucia
will forever for you weep and sigh.”
Translation: Natalie Pepa

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