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Rita Montaner
Singer, actress
1900-1958

 

Rita Montaner, who was called “the only” by the people, Cuba Now, 5/21/07
She was one of the myths of the Cuban stage. She assumed and explored all of the genres and ways of performance, from the theater to the cabaret.

By Mercedes Santos Moray

Cubanow.- Rita Montaner is one of the most charismatic characters in Cuban popular culture. That woman with a cinamon skin, and a marvellous mole in her forehead, had a careful musical education and received a high-level instruction, after she graduated, with a golden medal at the Peyrellade Conservatoire, one of the most famous institutions in the country.

Nonetheless, and despite her personal charms, the exellency of her piano interpretation which could have consecrated her as a concert performer of cultured music, the theater, as well as the radio and afterwards the cinema and television were to be the privileged spaces for this passionate woman who had an ironic character and an explosive life.

She died on April 17, 1958, in her birth city, since this woman from Havana and known all over the world, like many of the great personalities from Cuban music, had been born in Guanabacoa, a village which belongs today to the capital city, almost a month before becoming 58 years old and the victim of a cancer which silenced her voice.

But she is not remembered in Cuba painfully or from her death. Rita is music and music is life, as she demonstrated with only 22 years old when it was her voice the first to be heard singing, in the program with which was inaugurated in 1922 the Radio in Cuba, in the PWX broadcasting station.

Five years later, already eighty years ago, Rita Montaner got hold forever of the stage and of lyric theater, when she made her debut in the traditional Spanish operetta Niña Rita, a piece which was premiered in 1927, from the master Ernesto Lecuona, to assume with her voice and her acting abilities, one of the anthological moments of the Cuban musical pentagram, the congo-tango Mamá Inés.

Next year, and since 1928 with her debut in Paris, in stages sush as the Olimpia and the Palace of the French capital, she became known for other publics, and her name began to be expanded, as when in 1931, she also performed in the United States, to offer concerts and recitals, shown where she was always the main star, and where she was frequently surrounded by the talent of Bola de Nieve in the Piano.

Rita Montaner assumed and explored every genre and way of performance on stage, from the theater to the cabaret, maintaning on of her best places in the mythic Tropicana, where she started an already legendary season in 1949 together with Bola de Nieve himself. She as also an actress for the radio and the television, where she made her charisma and her critic irony evident during the 1940's and the 1950's.

Cinema, in Cuba as well as in Mexico, had her among her main stars. She gave life to melodramas and gave a special touch of humor and sensibility to the so called musical genres, with the wit of her grace and that singular intensity of her interpretations, as it was to be demonstrated in El Romance del Palmar (The Romance of the Palm Grove), a movie made in 1938 which since it was premiered that December, was the Cuban talking movie of the pre-revolutionary era with the highest box office earnings in and outside of Cuba.

About a decade later she would give it a try to Mexican movies, with films such as María la O, from 1947, an argument inspired in the famous traditional Spanish operetta from Ernesto Lecuona. In 1952 she would be again the main star in another Cuban movie, La Única (The Only), the title which became the epithet of the actress-singer on her career, and with which she was unanimously recognized by the people.

Her versatility, the mastery of her talent, led her to adventures which could have been qualified as a suicide for other people. In this way, and already ill, with her cancer wound in her throat, she gave life to an opera in 1950's Havana, La médium, from the Italian Gian Carlo Menotti, to immortalize the character of madame Flora which years later was assumed by the mezzo soprano Alba Marina.

For that reason, surrounded by the love of her people, while she was still lucid she enjoyed the tribute which, through the television media, was offered to her by the most famous singers and musicians, a few days before her death, in 1958. For those endless reasons, we feel in debt of that wonderful woman, of that willing and demanding artist eighty years after her debut in the Cuban stage.

* The autor is a Cuban writer and a literary and art critic.

* Translation: Karen López

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