Estrella Morente: A Song For Her Father

Estrella Morente, about whom I have posted quite a lot recently, launched the eighth Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells last night. It was not what many would have expected of the opening night of this high-octane annual event that so many flamenco-philes in the UK eagerly await. Nor was she the energised diva we so vividly remember from the  time when she hit world fame with her rendition of Volver in Almodóvar’s film of the same title, who commanded the entire breadth and length of the stage and artlessly seduced her audience. The Estrella we saw last night was still as a statue at times, weighted, withdrawn. She began and ended the concert with seguiriyas, climaxing in the extremely difficult cante por cabales that she so dramatically sang for her late father at his funeral. Deep song flowed from her resplendent throat all evening long: seguiriyas, soleá,  taranta… Those who are familiar with her father’s many albums will have recognized that everything she sang came from his rich and wide repertoire. It was his aura, and not hers, that filled the theatre. The colours on stage suited the sombre mood. Black and white dominated the first half of the evening, broken, blood-like, in the second half, by a red dress with bata de cola that somehow added to the sense of loss and despair that permeated the theatre. For sure, Estrella’s singing had its incredible qualities of control and range, but she, herself, was almost absent, even when she made an attempt to engage with the audience or to force herself to flounce her hair and the trail of her flaming dress.

A small minority of those in the audience may have felt restless. Deep song makes few concessions. Next to me, one lady whispered to another ‘When is she going to get up and dance?’ Most, however, knew, understood and had even anticipated the mood of the evening. Like Estrella and her entourage, many in the audience also felt the void created by the untimely death, less than two months ago, of her father, the dynamic and enormously creative singer, Enrique Morente. Estrella had been mentored by him and, in recent years, they had often appeared as a duo. Moreover, the strong communal and family ties of southern Spain translate in times of death to a public and shared sense of grief that defies containment. And so it was that sombreness descended on the audience too. The knowledge that she was surrounded by many close members of her family — her younger brother Kiko Morente, her maternal uncle Montoyita Carbonell, who accompanied her on the guitar, and another close relative Monti Carbonell — turned the evening into a performance of grieving of which we too were part. In a sense, and in the wake of Enrique Morente’s death, the audience too became part of this flamenco family that has suffered so great a loss. Words of encouragement came from the audience. So too the cry ‘Vivan los Morente!’ (Long live the Morentes!) and a plea to sing one song for her father. In that final addendum, Estrella practically broke down, overwhelmed by the emotion that she had held under control all evening long.

The Flamenco Festival often brings new and exciting talent to London, replete with amazing technical skill, innovation and creative flair. Last night reminded us that flamenco is, first and foremost, about loss, about death and about haunting. Estrella Morente may not have enjoyed performing last night, but the night was soulful and deep.

February 9, 2011 Post Under General - Read More

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