Estrella Morente's performance last Monday at Sadler's Wells in Islington, London, was historic. Estrella, which means star in Spanish, is the heir of a great dynasty of flamenco singers. However heavy the burden might be, she had no problem to evolve into a more restraint performance while keeping its purity. Highly influenced by jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald; a meticulously orchestrated exhibition of words, sounds, and movements.
Estrella Morente - Courtesy Getty Images
Her reputation was cemented after her appearance on the soundtrack for Pedro Almódovar's film Volver. Now, she returned to Sadler's Wells to present her 2012 album, Autorretrato (Self-portrait). The cantaora defines as "the reflection of an interior" this fourth studio album in her career, which breaks a silent spell of six years without a record, since she released 'Mujeres' in 2006. The repertoire consists of fifteen songs, over and hour of music, which combine roots and innovation. Seguiriyas, pregones, bulerías, old-time sevillanas and pregones, are combined with poems by San Juan de la Cruz, a tribute to Lola Flores, an habanera by Carlos Cano, Caribbean rhythms and a requiem. Musicians such as Paco de Lucía, Vicente Amigo, Tomatito, Antonio, Josemi and Juan Carmona, Pat Metheny and Michael Nyman, among many others, take part on the album, whose directing was concluded by Isidro Sanlúcar following Enrique Morente's death. "There isn't anything that he didn't participate in. We were at the studio for hours and hours working spontaneously, naturally, with freedom", Estrella Morente affirms. She has won innumerable awards including the Ondas prize for best flamenco performer, and was shortlisted for a Latin Grammy and the Premio Amigo. Her albums have reached platinum and gold sales status respectively.
When dressed in black, Morente embraced Edith Piath. Her hands became the protagonists in a storyline that ended in frenzy and ecstasy. As Fernando Trueba, Oscar winner film director, says:
"Every time Estrella takes to a stage to sing, the place becomes a theatre or an arena, whether in a tablao, on film, or in any performance. She is archaic and futuristic at the same time. But Estrella is also an actress, although her roles and characters are not defined or mechanical. They represent an open score, upon which to open the heart of Cante, like a ritual sacrifice in which art is always renewed, always alive".
A very minimalist stage, while a monochromatic choice of colours for her costumes, either black or white, allowed us to concentrate on her hands. Magical; a key tool for a flamenco performer. Then, her voice traverses the space: back and forward, unstoppable. The heart stops beating and the audience is transported into a state of bliss. The sublime is here to stay. The night is going to be magical. Morente, as the great sorcerer, knows that. Her team, especially the lead guitarist Jose Carbonell "Montoyita", collaborate on equal terms. Carbonell delivers a couple of solos to open up your appetite for more. It brings us to a universal Andalusia. A meeting point among cultures and continents.
Her grand finale, walking out of the state, breaks into pieces that imaginary barrier between the singer and the audience. It electrified the room. Everyone ended eating at her hand. A rare twilight moment where everybody felt part of a ritual.