One of the world’s leading flamenco and classical guitarists and composers, Adam del Monte, will present scenes from the flamenco opera “Llantos 1492” during the 2019 Tucson Desert Song Festival, Jan. 15-Feb. 5.
“Llantos 1492,” the world’s first flamenco opera, is in keeping with this year’s festival theme of Latin American and Spanish music. This concert version features five singers and a piano reduction of the score with del Monte’s wife, Mercedes Juan Musotto, on piano and del Monte on flamenco guitar.
Born in Israel, del Monte grew up in Germany, England and Spain. He recounts a time when his parents left him with Gypsies at the age of 7 in the Sacromonte neighborhood in Granada, Spain. He lived in cave dwellings built from the 16th century after Jewish and Muslim populations were expelled from their homes, intermixing with the nomadic Gypsies, and adopting some of their customs.
Del Monte told AJP that while his father was his primary guitar teacher, he learned “by osmosis” and performed with his Gypsy caretakers. “It takes a village to teach flamenco,” he quips. Inspiration from the Gypsies’ stories, oral history and anecdotes worked their way into his first operatic libretto and music. “The experience had a stronger impact on me than I’d imagined.”
Set during the height of the Spanish Inquisition, “Llantos 1492” portrays the persistence and triumph of religious and ethnic identity in a time of intolerance. In the opera, a Jewish lawyer represents a Gypsy village in a trial, securing a reduced sentence for a trumped-up charge. Political maneuvering transforms into intolerance, oppression, expulsion and suffering on a large scale, and on a personal level. The protagonists’ lament, their “llantos,” forms the emotional basis for the opera that delves into the mysterious worlds of Gypsies and Sephardic Jews. Del Monte calls it a microcosm of the macrocosm of the era.
Born Adam Kofler, a surname that means mountaineer, del Monte says he adopted the local translation of the name as Jewish immigrants have done for centuries. Since his grandfather was Sephardic, he feels his life in Spain was the closing of a circle.
With formal classical music education in Spain, England and Israel, del Monte credits his wife, a pianist and opera coach from Argentina, for the inspiration to create the opera. “I’d never written even a song before, let alone an opera,” he recalls. At her suggestion, all the stories of his life zoomed into focus. “I didn’t realize my life was about to change. My whole life, I was this oddball Jewish guy who lived with Gypsies and identified culturally with flamenco and classical music. My heart is Spanish. In the Jewish community in Madrid, me being Jewish wasn’t enough,” he says of getting his culturally blended music heard.
Del Monte describes flamenco as an antithesis to opera. “It is opposite in culture and rhythms, so there is a lot of flexibility embedded in this composition. It’s like a mixture of oil and water,” he says of the cultural blend that also takes in some Sufi and Kabbalistic mysticism.
While he continues a solo career, performing around the world, del Monte has been on the faculty in the studio guitar department at the University of Southern California since 2000, where he teaches flamenco and classical guitar.
The Tucson performance will be the opera’s premiere presentation, directed and narrated in English by Daniel Helfgot with minimalistic staging and costuming. Musical selections can be previewed at www.adamdelmonte.com under “Llantos Opera.” “Llantos 1492” will be presented on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Crowder Hall at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, 1017 N. Olive Road. Tickets are $10 and available at www.tucsondesertsongfestival.org.