Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fresh, rhythmically incisive and suggestive.
Cristóbal Colón, written 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 Columbus. Basically the later opera has the same layout with a number of relatively short scenes, 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! is 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! (CD 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, should definitely give this sequel a chance as well. Those not yet under the spell of Balada are advised to try
Cristóbal Colón first.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
La Muerte de Colón by Leonardo Balada
Jon Garrison (Voice),
Judith Jenkins (Voice),
Brent Stater (Voice),
Katy Shackleton-williams (Soprano),
Dimitrie Lazich (Baritone),
Raymond Blackwell (Baritone),
Katherine Mueller (Mezzo Soprano),
David Okerlund (Baritone)
Carnegie Mellon Repertory Chorus,
Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Length: 91 Minutes 34 Secs.
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