Gabriela Lena Frank: “Requiem for a Magical America”

Gabriela Lena Frank: “Requiem for a Magical America”
“Happy dance and wild party of all the skeletons.”
© Calaveras by Jose Guadalupe Posada, Dover Pictorial Archive Series
No texts. No voices. Yet, it’s still a requiem. Did we miss something?

No, not according to Gabriela Lena Frank, whose Requiem for a Magical America: El Día de los Muertos premieres on 21 April by the Kansas University Wind Ensemble and Dance Company, with choreography by Muriel Cohan and Patrick Suzeau. "This baby’s an 'instrumental' requiem, and can work strictly as a concert piece or as a ballet," Frank enthuses. The two-part, 30-minute work is based on the folklore of El Día de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), which melds pre-Columbian indigenous beliefs with Spanish Catholicism. Frank notes, “I’m culling traditions from the various countries in Central and South America that celebrate it. While there’s a bit of a scary tinge to the holiday, it’s really mostly humorous and fun as people fondly remember their loved ones who have died."

“Any-Pueblo, Latin America” begins their annual celebratory preparations to welcome the return of their deceased loved ones. The opening features church bells, clarinets, and humming that emulate a church service. Suddenly, mayhem ensues with clanging pots and pans as the villagers begin driving out the bad spirits from their homes. A “Calaveras” section offers humorous and saucy lighthearted verses that the living make about their deceased loved ones, which is followed by a widows’ prayer to Santisima Muerte, a figure representing both the Virgin Mary and Michtecacihuatl, the Aztec queen of the underworld. The villagers then evoke the dead.

The villagers’ nighttime cemetery vigil is complete, having cleaned and decorated the graveyard. They hear the swish of bats leaving the underworld, which signals the impending arrival of the deceased. The dead begin to stream in — first, the children (angelitos) and then the adults, who are followed by the old men — who are last as usual. Next follow the un-baptized spirits who are without direction and can’t find their loved ones. Then the “espiritus malevolentes” appear — those who died violently. The angriest one is a single warrior who represents those killed by the Spanish at the time of the Conquest. The villagers hotly drive him out with pots and pans. The music quickly returns to the solemn sounds of church bells, clarinets and humming.

Requiem for a Magical America: El Día de los Muertos 30'

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