October 7, 2010
Despite a summer chock full of events at The Paramount Theatre the past few months, they were all cinematic in nature. No complaints, here, mind you. I’m always a film fan, first and foremost. However, I had yet to experience a live performance at the venue. No concerts, no acting, no shows. But all of that was about to change that night. Omara Portuondo, legend of Cuban music, was taking the stage at The Paramount.
In spite of my preview write-up, I must confess I was unsure of what the show was to entail. My beloved and I were ever so excited for this exotic experience. Sure, we may live in the professed “live music capital of the world,” but how often does that encompass a 79 year-old Latin diva and such Cuban flavor? My gut told me something truly special was in the offering.
There was a genuine air of excitement at the theatre. Patrons were not merely milling around before the show, they were buzzing. As the performance time arrived, director Ken Stein took the stage and welcomed us to the 2010/11 season. Thanking individual and corporate sponsors, he reminded us that none of it would be possible without the patron’s generosity.
And with the introduction stated, the show began. For the next two hours I was enraptured by what unfolded before me, a sensational event the likes I had never seen.
All of the musicians were of the highest caliber, and would have been amazing to behold indivdually. Each was fantastic in his own right, but I was most impressed with Harold Lopez Nussa, the pianist. With powerful fingers, he flashed over the keys like a flash of lightning and thundered chords during solos that would leave the crowd breathless. The five musicians had such a special harmony with the songs, and the energy levels they brought kept the entire show ratcheted up to an 11. Every one on stage had a chance to shine, and they all were bathed in the audiences’ adoration and applause. Felipe Cabrera on the bass and percussionists Andrés Coayo and Rodney Yllarza Barreto brought the house down during solos. And the passion of guitarist Swami Jr. was simultaneously cool yet caliente, evoking memories of a young Carlos Santana.
However, the true revelation that night was Omara herself. She may not have played an instrument on stage, but with her ardor, her voice and her charm, she had us all listening intently. I was astonished and hypnotized by her energy. Portuondo’s stamina was a marvel to behold. Heck, I get fatigued from climbing simple flights of stairs, yet here was this living legend performing a vibrant show for nearly two hours (the first 90 minutes of it without a break), a mere few weeks shy of her eightieth birthday. ¡Dios Mio!
Omara was reminiscent of Yoda up there, only far more impressive than any Star Wars special effect. This was real; a true phenomenon of flesh and blood. There was something magical and beautiful about the lyrical nature of her soulful production. It was a performance of the spirit, and it was genuine magic. That night, neither her body or voice betrayed her frail corporeal frame. Her vocals were sincere and powerful, captivating the entire audience (even if some of us couldn’t understand most of the Spanish lyrics). As the show continued, it was like watching someone in a fountain of youth. One could almost see the years melting away, and I imagine that night’s performance was identical to those in a smoky Havana club over half a century ago.
Whether singing from her own albums, leading the audience into an impromptu accompaniment of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” or getting everyone to stand and sing along with her finale of “Guantanamera,” Omara gave everyone something to treasure and remember. As we left the theatre that night, we felt so alive and so enriched. It was a great evening and an amazing display.
To witness something of this caliber, I was entranced. I was moved. I was grateful.
Feliz cumpleanos, Omara… y gracias.