Omara Portuondo and Chucho Valdés | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 8 May, 2011

Presented by Santa Cecilia It's Wonderful!

Chucho Valdés and Omara Portuondo with Lázaro Rivero (double bass), Andrés Coayo (percussion) and Julio Barreto (drums)

Cuban diva Omara Portuondo is no stranger to the Auditorium Parco della Musica, returning to the venue often, not only as a solo singer, but also together with the musicians with whom she shared the spotlight in Wim Wender's documentary Buena Vista Social Club, the film that introduced this extraordinary artist to a worldwide audience and international acclaim. Sunday evening was the fourth time I'd seen her perform in as many years and it was, yet again, a very special event – this time Omara Portuondo was accompanied on stage by legendary Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés.

The couple last worked together when Valdés played on the delightful track Nuestro gran amor – an album highlight - on Omara's last CD Gracias. This appearance of the couple in Rome was part of a European tour to promote a brand new recording - a collaboration called simply Omara & Chucho, a modest title for an album by two legends of Cuban music, but befitting the affection, not to mention mutual admiration, that these two performers clearly have for one another, resulting in a musical complicity and on-stage chemistry that made Sunday evening such a wonderful concert.

Valdés opened the evening, a giant of man who seemed almost shy as he took the stage, giving a humble nod of acknowledgment to the already exuberant audience, before sitting at the keyboard and stunning us with a piano solo of dazzling dexterity played with an air of seemingly nonchalant ease and sense of fun – what an opening! Then, to the improvised piano chords of Beethoven, Omara took to the stage to perform Llanto de Luna; singing gently at first, she then slowly, but surely, mesmerised the audience with the warmth of her interpretation and range - at eighty-one her voice shows no sign of losing any of its power! An enormously charismatic personality, she quickly had most people up and out of their seats, clapping and dancing for the next number Y decídete mi amor - throughout the entire evening she effortlessly alternated between the tearful torch song singer of heartbreaking songs like Si te contara or the spine-tingling acappella version of 20 años, and the playful dancing Havanna club singer of numbers such as Que quieres que te diga, sweeping the audience along with her at every turn.

When Omara, Chucho and the extremely talented young musicians in the band returned to the stage to a standing ovation and thunderous cheers for an encore, Omara asked the audience to name the song they most wanted to hear, obliging us with the unanimously requested Dos Gardenias, remembering the late Buena Vista Social Club member Ibrahim Ferrer in her introduction to the song. Every time I've seen Omara Portuondo perform, she has never really looked like she wanted to leave her adoring public and Sunday evening was no different. The audience was on its feet and cheering for more, so out they all came yet again for one final energetic encore before the band left us to Omara's chanting goodbye “Ciao Ciao!...Ciao Ciao...!” Unmissable!