Sombras del País
Sombras del País St. Francis Auditorium, June 10
Browsing through the entertainment listings in American newspapers from the first half of the 20th century, one is struck by the vast number of performers who made the rounds of movie halls and vaudeville palaces — and by how profoundly forgotten most are today. Among the obscure are singer Felipe Delgado (1899-1940) and pianist Anna Maude Van Hoose (1884-1960), a duo whose achievements were celebrated in a recent lecture-performance by pianist Nancy Cooper and baritone Carlos Archuleta at St. Francis Auditorium.
Cooper stumbled into their story because she is Van Hoose’s great-niece. She never knew Van Hoose, and by the time she began her research, older relatives were all gone, as were Van Hoose’s papers and music. Cooper was nonetheless able to assemble a good deal of biographical information through dogged research. Born in Louisiana, Van Hoose made the rounds of “circuit Chautauquas,” settled in California in 1922, and began working as a pianist for Denishawn, the groundbreaking dance academy and performing troupe run by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. (Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey are among its alumni.) There she first encountered Delgado, a native of Las Vegas, New Mexico, who made a small splash as an actor and dancer in 1920s silent films. He capitalized on his resemblance to heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, who apparently helped promote Delgado’s career.
Delgado and Van Hoose first collaborated in 1924, but they began concertizing more devotedly in 1930 and worked steadily through 1939, shortly before Delgado died. They were particularly active in California and New Mexico, but seem to have performed elsewhere in the Southwest (Arizona seems quite likely). As ticket sales could not cover their travel expenses, the pair enlisted support from an impressive list of patronesses. They offered constantly changing Spanish-language programs under the name
Sombras del País (Shadows of the Country). Cooper has documented at least 50 bookings during those years, including three — in 1930, 1932, and 1938 — in St. Francis Auditorium, where this tribute was held. Their concerts were colorful affairs, with numerous piano solos interspersed among the vocal numbers to allow Delgado’s frequent costume changes. His outfits were often crafted as virtual counterfeits of Valentino’s, and Van Hoose held up her side of the bargain by draping herself in lacy mantillas and so on. Their onstage props included a dove and a burro. They also staked a prominent place in radio. Delgado’s Spanish-language weekly show, Media Hora Española, earned a weekend-evening prime-time spot that was carried by stations across the country.
Following an interesting 25-minute lecture, Cooper was joined by Archuleta for a program that mirrored a typical Delgado-Van Hoose show, though without sets, costumes, or fauna. Numbers were grouped by presumed nationality — songs of Spain, Argentina, and Mexico — before concluding with the beloved folksong “La Golondrina” (presented as a song “of early California and New Mexico”). The Argentine section comprised nothing by Argentine composers, but rather a song titled “El Gaucho” by the legendary Italian operatic tenor Tito Schipa, and then a piano solo (“Sacro-monte”) by the Spaniard Joaquín Turina. Most of the repertoire was of the charming parlorsong or “light concert classic” variety. A handful of the works were by the Mexican María Grever, remembered today mostly for her tango-bolero “Júrame” and her much-covered 1934 hit “Cuando vuelva a tu lado,” which became famous in English as “What a Diff’rence a Day Made.” Cooper was at her most vivid in the piano solo
Córdoba, by Isaac Albéniz, where she caressed the melody as it wove through the inner lines. Archuleta brought his bright baritone to the task effectively. Several slips suggested a certain casualness in his preparation; but, to be fair, he had eight songs to learn for what, for the nonce, was one-off event. His finest interpretations arrived with Grever’s “Cuando me vaya” and “Júrame,” the former being further enhanced by a particularly lovely piano interlude.
And yet, the show may have a further life. A representative of the New Mexico Museum of Art, the concert’s sponsor, voiced hope that the museum might bring the performers back this fall. One would welcome the opportunity to hear the program again after the songs have been “lived in” a little longer. The next time around, Cooper might consider including the 45-second color clip of Delgado from the famous 1930 Paul Whiteman musical movie King of Jazz. In that film’s finale, “The Melting Pot of Music,” Delgado sings and accompanies himself on guitar before the orchestra takes over. As Cooper referred to this appearance in her lecture, it seemed odd that she did not include it among her visual projections, even though it can be accessed on YouTube. It does raise a question. Although Cooper described Delgado as a baritone, the film suggests instead that he was a light-voiced tenor.