|About this Recording
8.660193-94 - BALADA, L.: Muerte de Colon (La) (Death of Columbus) [Opera] (J. Garrison, J. Jenkins, Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic and Repertory Chorus, R. Page)
Opera in two acts
Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) - Jon Garrison
Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic • Robert Page
Production Advisor: Gregory Lehane • Executive Producer: Alan Fletcher
Since the early 1980s opera has been a significant part of Balada’s musical life. Beginning with the acclaimed operas Hangman, Hangman (1982), Zapata (1984), and The Town of Greed (1997) and the new opera Faust-bal recently given its première at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Balada has combined his musical and extra-musical interests in his works for the stage. La Muerte de Colón brings together his historical interest in heroic figures from the age of Revolution and Discovery with his characteristic musical style. Balada blends surrealism, ethnic and folk allusions, and a contemporary orchestral language derived from avant-garde techniques of the mid-twentieth-century. In short, a work emerges which could not be written by any other composer. It is fitting that this première recording of the opera involves a large spectrum of the faculty and student musicians of Carnegie Mellon University, at which Balada has been a driving force in the composition program and university community for almost forty years.
Before the Barcelona première of Christopher Columbus, Balada was asked if he felt it was important to write an “avant-garde and futuristic” opera for the subject matter of Columbus and the ideas of discovery and looking forward. Balada commented, however, that he felt it was crucial for us to always have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Rather than looking towards a future of total cultural homogeneity, we must rather embrace and recognize the cultural differences of our collective pasts. This was a very important concept to the music of the original Christopher Columbus and also La Muerte de Colón, with their blending of ethnic ideas and avant-garde musical effects. In this way, Balada is making his own statement about what the present needs to be: a mix of both past and future.
The opera The Death of Columbus, in Spanish, was composed from February 1992 to January 1993 (and revised/expanded in 1995/96), and is a sequel to Christopher Columbus, which had its première in Barcelona in 1989 with José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé in the leading rôles. The composition was supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
From my point of view as a composer, the important elements in an opera are the identification by the orchestra of each dramatic moment and the lyricism of the vocal soloists. Given the importance of the latter, it would not have been appropriate for me to compose operas during my avant-garde period, from the mid- 1960s to the mid-1970s, when I did not consider melody as part of my style. Instead my interest in musical drama expressed itself in the form of cantatas, where instead of singers there were narrators and the choruses would sing texturally rather than lyrically. In 1975, while feeling the need for a new direction in my music, I incorporated melody into my language, creating a symbiosis between the far-out techniques of the avant-garde and traditional lines and harmonies, causing disapproval from some quarters in carrying out what nowadays is a very common practice. At that point with the addition of lyrical melodies to my palette, composing operas made sense to me. In all of my operatic work since then, abrasive contemporary orchestral sonorities co-exist with highly melodic vocal lines.
The opera Christopher Columbus ends with the arrival of Columbus in the Indies. La Muerte de Colón starts at the point of his arrival in Barcelona on his return. It is a magnificent and spectacular scene. Columbus is welcomed by the King and Queen, and the entire city pays homage to the new hero, who brings all kinds of exotic gifts and even some Indians. This scene is only a remembrance, however, since the actual reality of the present is quite different. The present places Columbus on his death-bed. From this situation the rest of the opera emerges in the form of flash-backs or flashforwards bringing about historical moments as well as premonitions, foreseeing what the discovery really meant for the world. The mood is surrealistic, reflecting the delirium of death of a man of unreal imagination, whose utopian visions often bordered on madness. The last scene is his death in Valladolid.
In the scenes from his death-bed, which are all very short, Columbus struggles with the presence of a Mysterious Character, who is in fact his own conscience. He sets the scene for the imaginary events that torment Columbus, the Admiral, with guilty memories. A small chorus of monks is always present, praying for him.
 Scene 1. Barcelona: Return of Columbus (Columbus, Queen Isabella, King Ferdinand, a priest and helpers in baptism, citizens, monks, Indians) A chorus of citizens is watching with excitement as Columbus and his retinue are approaching, arriving in Barcelona in triumph. Columbus is given the keys of the city, and is received by the King and Queen. Columbus shows them the Indians he has brought. He points out how “strong and obedient they are…with no honour or power or arms. They can be sold...there are thousands like them in the Indies…” Queen Isabella corrects Columbus and tells him that “they must be baptized but not enslaved”. A ceremony takes place to baptize the newly-arrived Indians. The monarchs tell Columbus to undertake a new trip to conquer the Indies. “Aragon and Catalonia will provide him with the law and the science while Castile will provide him with men, arms and clergy…” He must find gold, establish cities, and civilize “those poor savages.” Now they sing that under the command of Castile and León, the world will belong to Spain. But the citizens of Barcelona, with dismay, speak a symbolic phrase, “the liberties taken from innocent peoples”. This phrase reappears throughout the opera.
 Scene 2. Death-Bed No. 1 (Columbus, Mysterious Character, Monks) The Mysterious Character plants the seeds of guilt in Columbus for what he has done to the “innocent peoples” and portrays himself as the personification of all of Columbus’s enemies. All throughout, the monks sing the Ave verum corpus.
 Scene 3a. In an Indian village – Song (Indian Voice, Group of Indians in a ritual) This is a symbolic scene in slow motion. While a voice is heard singing a song with no words, a ritualistic celebration is taking place. It is mime-like and mystical in character. It is the paradise that Columbus thought he had found.
 Scene 3b. In an Indian village – Pillage (Small Indian Chorus, Voices of Spaniards) Once the song ends, a small chorus of Indians sings while the ritual proceeds. The Spaniards are heard (not seen) in a tumultuous manner, voicing abuses and the relentless search for gold. “In Castile we were convicts, in the Indies we are kings!” Gradually the Indians fall to the ground, symbolically abused and defeated.
 Scene 4. Death-Bed No. 2 (Columbus, Mysterious Character, Monks) Columbus realizes that the Indies were like a paradise in which the people “were free, unfettered by envy, and where the gold didn’t tarnish the soul…” The Mysterious Character reminds Columbus of his enemies and how they denounced him to the King, the Queen, and the court. Throughout, the monks sing the Ave verum corpus.
 Scene 5. Bobadilla (Queen Isabella, King Ferdinand, Margarit, Aguado, Friar Boil, Bobadilla) In the court of Castile, a quartet of accusers led by Bobadilla lists a number of complaints against Columbus to the King and Queen. His competence and loyalty in the Indies are in serious question. According to the accusers “…some say that the Columbus family made a pact with the Indians and Christians to rise against Spain…others say that they have made a pact with the Genoese army to rise against Spain…five hundred Spaniards are receiving salaries paid by the public treasury with no returns…” Thus begins the downfall of Columbus. The monarchs agree on the fate of Columbus. The Queen, however, does so reluctantly. With pain she sings in an aria: “…my tears will wash the wounds inflicted on the honour of the Admiral…Bobadilla, be prudent so that your stick does not reprimand our man with too much severity.” Her sweet singing contrasts with the tense, dramatic lines of the accusers and the King.
 Scene 6. Look! (Columbus) Columbus is sent back to Spain in a ship, shackled with chains. Columbus expresses the deepest pain in this tormented aria: “...I look down to the ocean whose expanse I opened to Spain. I see reflected the face of my Queen who has forsaken me…I surrendered to your feet those lands. But as thanks, you humiliate me.”
 Scene 7. Jerusalem (Columbus, Queen Isabella, King Ferdinand, Courtiers) Back in Castile, Columbus is confronted with hostility by the King, the Queen, and the court, all accusing him of misdeeds. With the help of prophecies from the Bible, Columbus persuades the Queen to forgive him and to support him in a new adventure “to open the gates of the Holy Land.” The Queen expresses her faith in the Admiral: “You and I are like the dawn, the full river, the fertile valley…two rich streams whose waters are life and destiny for Humanity…you must…find the Holy Sepulcher and free Jerusalem!” The scene ends brilliantly with the chorus, in a tone of hope and expectation.
 Scene 8. The Columbuses (Beatrice, Columbus, Hernando [son], Diego [son], Diego [brother], Bartholomew [brother]) In Granada. This is a happy and euphoric scene with the Columbus clan and Columbus’s lover Beatrice singing their endless ambitions. They express their unconditional devotion to Columbus. Beatrice sings “…this is the slave of your spell. My beloved I will illuminate your path by foreseeing your heroic deeds.” This solo turns into a love duet with Columbus (“…I feel your kisses burning like fire in the sun…”). The duet gradually becomes a sextet with the sons and brothers singing “…with devotion and brotherhood on the land and the sea.” With a tremendous upbeat, this scene ends the Act I.
 Scene 1. In an Indian village – Dance The scene consists of an Indian dance that gradually builds to an outburst of power and drama. It is an expression of anger at the abuses of the explorers. There is no singing or talking. Only at the very end, a dramatic scream (“Ay!”) is heard, by an unseen chorus of voices.
 Scene 2. Death-Bed No. 3 (Columbus, Mysterious Character, Monks, Indians) The parts of Columbus and the Mysterious Character are spoken, while the monks sing the Ave verum corpus. The Mysterious Character points out to Columbus that “...with hundreds of Indians slaughtered, it was a just thing for them to rebel and seek vengeance…” Columbus responds: “...I wasn’t worst than the best, nor an improvement over the worst ones, but only a messenger, a mirror of a different world.” The Mysterious Character continues tormenting Columbus with a list of projects he did not accomplish, and he remarks “...what about the ladies of your heart? Beatrice and the Queen…see them...see them!”
 Scene 3. Beloved Ones (Queen Isabella, Beatrice, Columbus) A sad and almost mystical scene takes place in Columbus’s mind. The two women in Columbus’s life, Queen Isabella and Beatrice, express their disappointment. “Your beloved one has awaited you all her life in Cordoba…Always alone…I saw the years go by without the warmth of your kisses…” says Beatrice. The Queen continues “…I die disappointed. I was counting on you and in the end you forgot me…”
 Scene 4. Death-Bed No. 4 (Columbus, Mysterious Character, Monks) The Mysterious Character reminds Columbus that he is not a hero but “just a pawn in an historic destiny…look at those on whom glory has smiled!”
 Scene 5. The Heroes (Vespucci, Magellan, Bolívar, Zapata, Columbus, Mysterious Character, Monks) Four powerful characters appear, spelling out their achievements in history: “I found the strait…the way to Cipango…to the Indies” claims Magellan. “I am America!” announces Amerigo Vespucci in a brilliant and sarcastic duet. The Mysterious Character points out the real heroes to Columbus: Bolívar and Zapata. “Columbus, greater is the hate that the Peninsula has inspired in us than the sea that separates us from it…the sister nations dream of federal unity…equality…liberties and the banishing of slavery…” to which Zapata responds “…but the political liberties did not generate social justice. The peoples suffocate and suffer under the powerful. The Indians moan and the peasants cry on their knees, lowering their heads, with enormous humiliation. Silently sob the dispossessed!” This powerful duet ends with the refrain “The innocent peoples.”
 Scene 6. Apocalypse (Columbus, Mysterious Character, Queen Isabella, Beatrice, Four Apocalyptic Characters, Monks, Voices) In a very unreal setting at the height of his delirium, Columbus has a flash-forward vision. “Look, in a thousand years, nothing remains!” he says as the Mysterious Character agrees. Four Apocalyptic Characters appear resembling a lion, a young bull, a deformed human, and an eagle. Each one of them says their part in an accusatory, sardonic manner. There is drama as well as grotesque laughter on their part for the destructiveness of nature caused by the short vision of man. There is tragedy and humour in the music as well. “History repeats itself” says one of the Apocalyptic Characters. “…once more the Earth is flat and the Sun goes around her.” The Apocalyptic Characters try to take Columbus away but, as in the past, Queen Isabella is there to save him, while the chorus of voices echoes the final devastation. In an aria, the Queen orders Columbus: “Make your last trip in this ship of steel and fly through space, but this time without eagerness for gold or desire for glory…make this your fifth crossing and colonize the stars without harm, allowing their worlds to be as they are!” Beatrice comments: “Christopher, even if it is a dream, let us board this Noah’s Ark and fly to the infinite.”
 Scene 7. Forgive me (Columbus, Monks) On his death-bed Columbus is in his ultimate tormented delirium. While the monks continue their singing of the Ave verum corpus, he asks forgiveness from “...my beloved Beatrice…Earth and Sun…sea and rivers…air and species…Indians, blacks, birds, saints. All of you and God to whom I believed I was listening and obeying…”. He dies singing: “In manus tuas Domine commendo spiritum meum” (“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”—reported to be Columbus’s actual last words). It is a grand collage of sonorities in which electronic sounds, as well as the recorded replay of fragments from Balada’s opera Christopher Columbus(suggesting Columbus’s past), mix with dramatic orchestral textures.
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