In "Canto General Siglo XXI," Pablo Neruda’s poetry tells a story. The story is a sprawling one, examining the conquest of much of South America by Spain and the consequences of colonialism.
For the Piccolo Spoleto performance of the work, Neruda’s poetry was spoken and sung, often backed by a quintet of musicians, including Miguel Cordova, who composed the music, sang and directed the proceedings.
Cordova's daughter Elisa Cordova and his brother Rodrigo Cordova gave Neruda’s poetry its voice. Elisa’s Cordova sang with a precise soprano voice that rang clear above the musical accompaniment. Rodrigo recited sometimes lengthy passages by Neruda with gusto.
The music in "Canto General" is derived from a plethora of genres, and it progresses toward more modern styles as the performance goes along. The initial songs offered a mournful impression of a vast wilderness, largely untouched by the world. By the end, the influence of conquering Europeans was clearly felt, never more than in a quick rock song Miguel Cordova sings, accompanying himself on guitar.
Neruda’s poetry is served well by the music treatment, which works like a film score, reinforcing what’s happening in the text and creating a clear narrative from Neruda’s words. Miguel Miguel Cordova, who worked on a similar project with Neruda in the 1970s, gave the performance his all, playing a number of different traditional Latin American instruments as well as guitar, all while conducting the other musicians.
The City Gallery provided an intimate space for the performance, which was well-attended despite rainy weather. Throughout "Canto General," performed entirely in Spanish, Neruda’s anger toward his conquered world became clear, even as his words offered hope for a new world.
“I’m here to tell the story,” is an oft-repeated line throughout "Canto General," and in this performance, Cordova and company have done that remarkably well.