By Audrin Baghaie
After a laborious three-year endeavor, the UNM Honors College, along with the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra and National Hispanic Cultural Center, have resurrected the works of late composer Manuel Areu and performed them live for the first time ever this past Sunday.
Violinist, composer, actor and entrepreneur Manuel Areu (1845-1942) died after living a life of academia and aestheticism. Despite his transatlantic ventures, Areu’s life’s work of priceless musical compositions and playbills were left to decay in cedar trunks left in rural Arizona.
For years after his death, the manuscripts of Manuel Areu lived in a city dump across Jerome, Arizona before their rediscovery and subsequent donation to the University of New Mexico libraries’ Center for Southwest Research in 1952.
Now, after decades of silence, the UNM Honors College and the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra have reanimated Areu’s theatrical aspirations after a three year project of transcription and translation.
“This is one of those things that the Honors College is perfect for,” said Honors College Associate Dean Ursula Shepherd, “historians, photographers, conductors, musicians and students all working with one another to revitalize such profound works of art.”
Areu was particularly known for his work with zarzuelas, a Spanish theater style that blends song, dance, opera and comedy. Of his 130 recovered zarzuelas, two, along with other instrumental pieces, were performed with the help of a live orchestra at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra Concertmaster and First Chair Violinist Krzysztof Zimowski said reviving Areu’s work was such a great experience, he felt like he was part of the composing process.
“Music, when it’s lying down on the shelf, means nothing. It needs to be a live performance, you need to hear it. There’s no recording of this. One hundred years of absence, and I was the first to bring it to life. It’s an amazing, emotional feeling,” Zimowski said.
The show began with a bright overture that cascaded into Areu’s set of waltzes known as “Dolores,” before introducing the first zarzuela entitled, “Un Conato de Coburg.” The piece featured six thespians playing out a hastily formed love triangle, taking turns breaking into operatic Spanish love songs.
After a brief intermission, the second zarzuela, “El Retiro,” was performed, then “Los Rancheros” and another set of waltzes called “Brisas de España.” This time, the actors and actresses on stage entangled themselves into a hilarious scene of misunderstanding that raised bursts of laughter.
In addition to the concert, Honors College students, led by faculty members Celia Lopez-Chavez and Megan Jacobs, curated an exhibit titled, “Recovered Genius: The Life and Work of Manuel Areu, 1845 – 1942.” The exhibit is open through May 11 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Lopez-Chavez called the exhibit a “well-documented show that offers a visual and historical context of a work and legacy that has finally been recovered for future generations.”
Jaime Rodriguez, a recent UNM graduate, recalled the difficulty in deciphering the dialogue and notation from Areu’s documents.
“I started in spring of 2015,” Rodriguez said. “Mainly translating the dialogue [for the performers] from old Spanish to English, as well as using musical software for hours on end to figure the notes used in the original manuscripts.”
Rodriguez transcribed under the guidance of renowned Argentinean conductor Javier Alejandro Lorenzo, who worked firsthand with Honors College students in reviving Areu’s work.
Lorenzo conducted Sunday’s concert and directed the orchestra through the two zarzuelas.
“I knew about the collection for ten years, but started transcribing two and a half years ago.” Lorenzo said. “I helped the honors students and taught them to interpret the scores; we were discovering it together. It’s been a challenging, interesting process – like making a puzzle without all the pieces. But now, I’m very moved. I’m very much enjoying this moment.”
Audrin Baghaie is a culture reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.