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Rita Montaner. A name that encompassed all the art

On April 17, 1958, Rita Montaner, "La Única", died in Havana. Ernesto Lecuona, a fellow citizen of Guanabacoa and a great friend of the interpreter at the time of her death, published on the first anniversary of her death in Bohemia Magazine, a kind of very personal review of the professional friendship that united them, from which we extract excerpts:

Rita Montaner. A name that encompassed all the art

By Ernesto Lecuona

I met Rita Montaner at the Peyrellade Conservatory. It was located at Calzada de Reina, number 3. It was directed by Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade. Rita and I studied music theory and piano at that establishment. I remember that she was always accompanied by her father: a well groomed and extremely kind gentleman. For reasons that I cannot explain here, I left the Conservatory and took lessons from a private teacher, Antonio Saavedra, who was a disciple of Ignacio Cervantes.

Rita continued at the Conservatory and once, invited by a friend, I went to a party where the most advanced students were performing. That day Rita played a movement of a Beethoven sonata. It seemed to me that her pianistic conditions were remarkable. Afterwards, I started playing in movie theaters and I lost sight of Rita.

Years later I learned that she received singing lessons from an eminent teacher: Pablo Meroles, since she had a beautiful voice and a great temperament. I did not doubt it, since she always seemed to me an exceptional woman for music in all its aspects.

Life is strange, because that friendship that was born of a certain spiritual and artistic rapport vanished, so to speak. So Rita and I walked far away, without even social contacts.

I continued my studies with Joaquín Nin, who replaced Saavedra in this task. Later I entered the National Conservatory, where I received direct classes from Hubert de Blanck. In this conservatory I got my degrees as a piano and solfeggio teacher. It was then that someone told me: "Do you know that you have a fellow countrywoman who, besides playing the piano very well, sings better?" "A fellow countrywoman?", -I asked- "Yes, a Guanabacoense" -they answered me. And I don't know why the name of Rita Montaner came to my mind.

And that was her. Indeed, she played the piano admirably and thus sang. "She is magnificent," exclaimed those who heard her.

As she and I had moved away, without knowing why, I was waiting for her to invite me to her house in Guanabacoa, in order to "make some music", a pretext to be able to hear her. It did not happen. But, as I know how to wait, I said to myself: "I will hear her".

I went to New York. I was absent from Cuba for several months. When I returned, a friend whom I admired and had a deep affection for, the composer Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes, author of the habanera "Tú" and many, many other works, asked me if I knew a girl from Guanabacoa named Rita Montaner. I answered yes, naturally, and I told him my little story about her. Sanchez de Fuentes was ready to meet her and hear her. I would have to wait.

(...)

Eduardo had already heard Rita. He was amazed. I, less fortunate than him, was still waiting. I still did not know the voice of my classmate. A few years passed and I learned that Rita had married the lawyer Alberto Fernández Díaz. I was in Spain on a tour with the magnificent violinist Marta de la Torre, hired by Casa Daniel.

My cousin Eugenio Lecuona, a diplomat, father of the composer Margarita Lecuona, author of Tabú and Babalú, passed me a cable to offer me a two-week contract, on a trial basis, at the Capitol Theater in New York. I accepted. And I made my debut with so much luck that the two weeks turned into six.

When I returned to my homeland, I found an announced Cuban Song Festival, organized by Sánchez de Fuentes, with the collaboration of Eusebio Delfín, composer and author, and Guillermo Cárdenas, journalist. In this festival, Rita Montaner sang.

I was finally going to hear Rita!

I attended the event. I was thrilled to hear my "paisana" from Guanabacoa. I went up to the stage. I congratulated her warmly. We remembered our times at the Peyrellade Conservatory. A month later, I made some presentations at the Payret to perform the music that had been my hit at the Capitol in New York. There, for the first time, Rita Montaner was there at a musical party of mine.

(...)

In all the Cuban music concerts, Rita was indispensable. Those concerts were interrupted by other contracts of mine in New York (...). Two months after staying in New York, I received a cable from Don Luis Estrada, impresario of the Principal de la Comedia, inviting me to organize and direct a musical company to inaugurate the new Regina Theater (formerly Molino Rojo and today Radiocine).[a]). As I always liked the theater and I still like it, I accepted Estrada's proposals and as soon as I finished my commitments with the Roxy and made several recordings of phonograph records under contract, I returned to Havana.

Rita had also been in New York with her husband. I, because of my work, could not keep them company. But, now free from my performances at the Roxy, I was able to admire and applaud her at the 44th Street Theater, at the Schubert's, in a revue titled Una noche en España (...)

(...)

For the opening of the Regina I used the singers of my concerts: Caridad Suárez, María Ruiz, Dorita O'Siel and Vicente Morín, as well as Paco Lara, Fernando Mendoza and Mario Martínez-Casado, actors. All this, around two corps de vicetiples (as they used to say) directed by an acclaimed actor: Enrique Lacasa.

The name of Rita Montaner fluttered in my mind. It was necessary for her to give prestige to the Regina Theater season.

The old Molino Rojo was becoming a beautiful theater. On the walls of the lobby, one could see expensive gobelins from the Versailles era.

Rita Montaner arrived. She arrived before the time I calculated. And she arrived almost silently. She was already in Havana. I, meanwhile, waited.

The theater was embellished and the company was summoned for the inaugural meeting. There was a break for Fernando Mendoza to arrive from New York. We also gave time to Eliseo Grenet, whom I had invited to participate in the score of Niña Rita. It was an opportunity for him to have the music ready. And I -what strange things happen! - would finish the libretto of La Tierra de Venus, which I had arranged expressly for the Regina company.

I set out to look for Rita, as she was the only one missing from the cast. The artist's husband refused to let her work in the theater. It cost me God and help to convince him of his mistake, but I finally succeeded and Rita was hired. We debuted with the plays Niña Rita and La Tierra de Venus. To the first one we added the famous Mamá Inés. To the second we added Siboney, which had been premiered in one of the concerts by the contralto Nena Plana.

Rita succeeded. Fully. Clamorously. As I expected.

(...)

Rita recorded many, many records. Her name was placed so high that it could hardly fall. She went to Spain. She worked with Eulogio Velasco's company at the Apolo, in Valencia. She premiered an operetta: Malvarosa, with music by maestro Pablo Luna (...) At the same time she premiered my works.

He gave recitals in Madrid. Then he went to Paris in the company of Sindo Garay and his son Guarionex. She was already beginning to include in her repertoire the musical impressions of the maestro Moisés Simons, author of El Manisero. I, proudly, followed Rita's successes.

At another time he was involved in my theatrical companies. In two of them, he debuted with different plays: La revoltosa, pimentoso sainete lírico madrileño and Rosa La China, by Sánchez Galarraga and myself. In another season of mine at the theater La Comedia, she played La viuda alegre.

(...)

Likewise, Rita was in Agustín Rodríguez's season at the Martí. And there she performed the most varied works: Cecilia Valdés, by maestro Gonzalo Roig; María Belén Chacón, by Rodrigo Prats, and María La O, by myself. Melodies by Roig, Prats, Anckermann, Sánchez de Fuenetes, Grenet, Simons and mine, were premiered in different concerts at different times by the most brilliant interpreter we have ever had. I cannot forget her creation of Caignet's Te odio.

He created radio and television characters. She played the piano with me in countless concerts. Because she was a magnificent pianist, a "line pianist", as I say.

Rita's culture was astonishing. She talked about everything. She assimilated everything she read and heard. Moreover, what her beautiful eyes saw, they never forgot. Her name was always a symbol of glory. To announce her was to have the theater full in advance.

(...)

On his death, I wrote a letter that was read before the television cameras by Pepito Sánchez Arcilla. I sent some flowers. The orchids of memory. This was my last collaboration with the precious existence of Rita Montaner. I used to listen to the news on the radio at seven in the morning. I heard the unfortunate news. It was like a blow to my head, to my heart, to my soul. My nervous system was shattered. I spent the whole day with the little bottle of Bellergal in my hand.

Rest in peace, Rita Montaner. Rita la Única. Rita of Cuba. Rita of the World. For me, simply, Rita... Rita Montaner. A name that encompassed the whole art (...)

[a]It was located where the Casa de la Música de Galiano is today.

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  1. Mauro di Deus says:

    I think of charging a MagazineAM:PM tax for the spilled emotions that come to me every time I read you. I know it has to do with age, because the years accumulate and, in my case, the emotion is more in the flower of the skin, but I am uncomfortable: every time I dive into a published story, as in that of Lecuona about Rita, I feel that there is as much to know as tears to roll. I will have to go back to Cuba more times to give that sanha a chance for knowledge linked to Cuban music and culture. I was thrilled. Thank you very much!

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