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Cuba's Omara Portuondo at the Bowl

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Thursday August 16, 2018

From The Los Angeles Times

Review: Cuba’s Omara Portuondo comes to the aid of L.A. Phil, Dudamel at the Bowl
By: Randy Lewis

[…] There was some sense of cosmic scale-balancing in Dudamel’s choice of veteran singer Omara Portuondo to anchor Tuesday evening’s second half. Beaming that dimpled impish smile of his, he announced, “And now I have a surprise for you,” leaving the podium to escort Portuondo, 87, onstage, she looking elegant in a floor-length gown of white and gold, her hair up in one of her signature headbands.

The Havana native started singing professionally as a teenager but actually started her performance career as a dancer at the famed Tropicana club in the Cuban capital before joining the Cuarteto d’Aida and focusing on her voice. Portuondo is one of several veteran Cuban musicians who were introduced to a new generation two decades ago by way of the Buena Vista Social Club project instigated by producer Nick Gold and shepherded by roots musician Ry Cooder.

Although she spent most of her 30 minutes onstage singing while seated in a chair at Dudamel’s left hand, positioned between him and her frequent accompanist, pianist Roberto Fonseca, Portuondo gamely rose and flashed a couple of fluid dance moves at different points in the program.

Remarkably, her voice remains lithe and powerful. In a rendition of “La Sitiera” that segued effortlessly into the song that’s practically the Cuban national anthem, “Guantanamera” — based as it is on a poem by revered 19th-century Cuban poet Jose Marti — she sustained the final “a” in the song’s title so long the audience erupted in an ovation equal parts appreciation and astonishment.

She demonstrated her facility with a variety of song styles, from the Afro-Cuban jazz of “Lo Que Me Queda Por Vivir” to the cabaret underpinning of the hyper-romantic ballad “Toda Una Vida,” rendered with just Fonseca’s piano supporting her, to the traditional Cuban son of “La Sitiera/Guantanamera.”

The few comments Portuondo made between numbers were uttered quietly, in Spanish, but at the end of the evening she saluted Dudamel and the orchestra in English, stating “Take a bow — a big one. I love you!” The musicians and audience returned the sentiment as she tossed off another salsa step or two as she exited the stage to a reprise of the “ah-ah-ah” refrain of her closing number, “Y Tal Vez,” a cappella.

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