“Good evening, Los Angeles. I’m happy to be able to share great music with a great audience. On behalf of my colleagues I’d like to say how glad we are to be here, and so, thank you for coming. Thank you very much.”
That was how El Cigala, one of Spain’s most popular flamenco singers, kicked off his concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night.
But the truth was very different. On Tuesday evening, the night before the performance, his wife of 25 years, Amparo Fernández, had died.
El Cigala performed like a professional, putting aside his pain to give a taste of life to others
Little did the audience know that 45 minutes before taking the stage, El Cigala had arrived in his dressing room wearing pajamas, his eyes covered by sunglasses. Leaning against his bass player, Yelsy Heredi, he seemed beyond consolation.
As the minutes passed, he and Julio César Fernández, his road manager and son, began dressing. Diego asked for an eye bath and nasal spray, but insisted that he couldn’t go on: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” he mumbled. But he could, more so than on any other night, turning the performance into a tribute to Amparo.
During the previous six months, she had been being discreetly treated for the cancer from which she was suffering in Miami while El Cigala toured the United States.
But eventually, he began to suspect something was wrong, and eventually she told him the truth: that her insignificant tumor was taking control. On May 8, shortly after finding out, El Cigala gave an unforgettable performance at Carnegie Hall: Amparo had instructed him not to stop performing, to keep getting up on stage no matter what happened.
And he kept his promise by going out to perform in Los Angeles just hours after she died on Wednesday night, giving the show of his career, with each song taking on a special meaning: “In life there are loves that we can never forget,” he sang in Inolvidable (Unforgettable) and, from Vete de mí, “My hands are so hurt from clenching that I can no longer hold you.”
But there was not a trace of sentimentality in his performance, the intensity growing as he sang Soledad (Loneliness): “Forever to be in mourning. Oh, my solitude. Oh, come back now. You, come back now.”
The tension reached its peak in Está lloviendo ausencia (It’s raining absence): “And we part like this, without looking, without speaking, without kissing, without touching, we part as though it were nothing, each in a different direction, each with their destiny.”
There were no encores, and no confession at the end. El Cigala performed like a professional, putting aside his pain to give a taste of life to others.
The performance closed with Gracias a la vida (Thanks to life). And with that, his audience still unaware of what had happened, El Cigala left to board a plane for the Dominican Republic, where he now lives, and where his wife will be cremated in a private ceremony.