Commissioned and world-premiered by ROCO Chamber Orchestra
Duration: 7 minutes
This new orchestral work explores the captivating story of Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian bombshell who took Hollywood by storm in the 1940s. Born in Portugal in 1909, Carmen Miranda immigrated to Brazil as a young girl. With her energetic dance moves and dazzling fruit-topped costumes, Miranda rose to fame in the 1930s as a samba singer in Brazil, becoming an icon of tropical exuberance.
1939, Miranda was brought to the United States to star in Fox’s Down Argentine Way, launching her Hollywood career. Dubbed “The Brazilian Bombshell,” Miranda was exoticized and typecast in outrageous musicals as the very stereotype of the “Latin spitfire.” Though enormously popular, she faced criticism in Brazil for caricaturing Brazilian culture. Trapped by her Hollywood image, Miranda’s popularity declined in Brazil to the point where she was booed offstage in the same place that had made her famous 15 years earlier. She fell into a significant depression, and her vibrant spirit diminished. Miranda died unexpectedly in 1955 at age 46 after suffering a heart attack, a tragic end for a star who had glowed so brightly.
This piece captures Miranda’s larger-than-life persona and the contradictions of her meteoric career. The energetic Latin rhythms and bright orchestration reflect Miranda’s stage vitality and flamboyance. But subtler sections hint at the exploitation and loneliness beneath the glamor. Also, lounge-inspired interludes represent the more superficial phase of her career. Overall, the work celebrates and mourns an incredible talent whose complexity is challenging to comprehend. There are more questions about why she went so far in pursuing brilliance and fame beyond what she already had accomplished. Yet, ultimately, being a vast Carmen Miranda fan (and someone who shares the same birthday), my goal is to commemorate Miranda’s trailblazing legacy as an immigrant artist who introduced Brazilian music to the world. Before her, there were none.
2222 3220 timp 2 perc. piano strings
Percussion 1: Xylophone, woodblocks, vibraphone, whip, congas, cajón
Percussion 2: Large bass drum, vibraslap, wind chimes, drumset
Brazilian-American composer Clarice Assad declares herself “a vast Carmen Miranda fan” in her program note for Ode to Carmen Miranda, the concert’s opener and the first of the premieres.
For those not attuned to movies of the 1940s, the Brazilian singer-dancer “was exoticized and typecast in outrageous musicals as the very stereotype of the ‘Latin spitfire,’” as Assad’s note puts it. Her fruit-topped headgear in itself became a symbol of Hollywood fantasy and flashiness. But Miranda, “trapped by her Hollywood image,” eventually lapsed into depression and died at only 46—“a tragic end for a star who had glowed so brightly.”
Assad’s five-minute tribute puts the exuberance of Miranda’s Hollywood persona in the forefront. After a short percussion fanfare, the woodwinds charge into the first of the work’s jazzy, vivacious themes, with the rest of the orchestra adding Latin-tinged rhythms as further propulsion. A rousing clarinet solo and a drum-set outburst are among the free-spirited turns that follow. A yearning passage launched by a clarinet points toward Miranda’s inner unhappiness, but the music’s party soon resumes.
Led by guest conductor Johannes Debus, the Canadian Opera Company’s music director, ROCO threw itself into the music’s vigor and abandon. Texas Classical Review