- Manuel de Falla: When the Fire Burns & Nights in the Gardens of Spain dir. by Larry Weinstein
This DVD includes two films from documentarian Larry Weinstein, When the Fire Burns and Nights in the Gardens of Spain, both first released in 1991. Unfortunately, the DVD provides nothing in the way of new material. Indeed, even the audio has been inexpertly transferred to the digital format and many higher frequencies (e.g. orchestral bells, oboe, and higher pitches on the guitar) become warbly and distorted at times. Nevertheless, this release in digital format is a welcome addition to Falla filmography. Both films were produced for broadcast television; each is suitable for a general audience and could be useful in undergraduate music courses.
Nights in the Gardens of Spain is a brief concert film featuring Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (they also provide all of the orchestral portions of the DVD’s soundtrack) performing with pianist Alicia de Larrocha in Falla’s only work for piano and orchestra, Noches en los Jardines de España. Those looking for a pure concert experience will be disappointed by Weinstein’s editing that—while beautiful and indeed musical at times—includes many shots of the Alhambra Gardens intercutting the orchestral footage.
When the Fire Burns is an English-language documentary about Falla’s life and music. Weinstein weaves an inviting narrative full of contemporary and archival photographs and film footage of Spain and Argentina intermingled with many truly intimate interviews with Falla’s friends, family, colleagues, and biographers. His music itself, however, becomes the narrative’s main character, standing in for a physically absent Falla. For example, the opening sequence—interspersing scenes of orchestral and ballet (courtesy of the Ballet de España) performances with views of the Cadiz cityscape—is set to music from La Vida Breve, the flamenco-inspired opera that proved Falla’s place among the European musical vanguard in 1913. This fiery introduction is soon contrasted by harpist Nicano Zabaleta’s performance of his own transcription of Serenata Andaluza, a subtle, [End Page 601] impressionistic work originally for piano. Such juxtaposition reflects the film’s characterization of Falla as a man of conviction but also of contradictions, full of powerful music yet trapped in a sickly body. In short, the film positions Falla as nothing less than a heroic champion of Spanish nationalism.
A fleeting but memorable appearance by renowned cante jondo vocalist Ginesa Ortega in scenes from the ballet El Amor Brujo struck me as the standout performance on the film. While some might regard Ortega’s intense delivery jarring against a musical backdrop as refined and nuanced as Falla’s writing can be, I found her energy refreshing and an intriguing foil to the more urbane mezzo-soprano of Theresa Berganza who appears a number of times throughout the film.
As musicologists continue recovering the history of gay and lesbian composers, a frustration with this release is what is not present, namely discussion of Falla as a gay man. While evidence for such remains circumstantial, research regarding the composer’s sexuality has become an important part of contemporary Falla scholarship given his devout Catholicism, his high regard among Spanish nationalists past and present, and his many close friendships with gay intellectuals, such as Federico García Lorca.