Years of experience of arts events in Rochdale had taught me that ‘free’ concerts are rarely worth even that entrance fee so I almost ignored the advertisement in the April edition of Guia ‘ocio y cultura Lanzarote.’

The Coral Polifonica San Gines would be continuing their 2018 programme dedicated to the gender Zarzuela. This, the advert promised, would include works by several composers about the period of the Gender Guy arts movement that emerged from Spain and reached more widespread popularity at the turn of 19th to the 20th century.

‘Libra y gratuita hasta completer aforo’ was printed underneath the details, which we roughly translated as tickets free until full that in England might have flashed the red warning lights even more glaringly.

However, having lived here for over two years now, a drive into the centre of Arrecife no longer holds the fears it did when we were holiday makers terrified of scratching our hire car. Even the steep descent into the underground car park by The Gran Hotel now seems more manageable, so we decided to investigate whether ‘gratis’ really does mean too good to be true.

We arrived in time for a meal before the concert and simply because it looked to have a buzz about it we stepped into The Strava Bar, which on our return home we noted has five stars on Trip Adviser, which we fully endorse.

Our waitress really enthused about the menu and almost insisted we each choose a different dish so we could ‘share the tastes’. I had Iberian pork dripped in honey, which was truly wonderful, and Dee really enjoyed her ‘pork cheeks and cus cus’ which both looked and tasted a lot, lot better than it might have sounded.

Because the tickets were being given free to first comers we stepped across the road to the venue in plenty of time, or so we thought. The ‘bandstand’ seemed deserted and although this seemed to be the place highlighted on the map for us by the genuinely helpful staff at our local Tourist Information Centre in Playa Blanca there seemed little evidence of a concert about to commence. However, the Casa De Cultura, which was where we thought we were, was actually thirty yards further up the road.

As we stepped through the double front doors of one anonymous building within a long terrace what we saw took our breath away. We were in a high ceilinged foyer at the far end of which was a wide wooden staircase that climbed half way and then split right and left to give access to a balcony around all four walls. Between us and that ‘stairway to heaven’ were rows and rows of ordinary, functional office chairs. Maybe two hundred people were already seated and we desperately grabbed the only two chairs not yet occupied, in the far corner, right at the back. By the time the concert started there were many others standing behind us.

Then suddenly, from a place just out of view a group of elegantly dressed people came walking down that staircase and as they did so a hush descended with them. There was a male musical conductor, Javiar Diaz smiling and bearded and somewhat Bilbo Baggins like, a girl in a little black dress who turned about to be the ‘pianista,’ Diana Martinez, and then around thirty people, including twelve males, who were obviously ‘the choir.’ They arranged themselves in the stairwell in a way that reminded me of one of those Christmas TV specials we used to get in the UK of At Home With Bing Crosby And Family or Perry Como’s Christmas !

The concert began with Cora inicial de Los Gavilanes, (the hawks) composed by J. Guerrero, which seemed typically cheerful Spanish folk music and was sung joyously. Coro de Espigadoras de la rosa del azafran (choir dockers of Rose Saffron), another composition by Guerrero followed with the distinctive element of the females underpinning  the crescendo of the male voices.,

The male section opened Seguidillas de El barberillo de Lavapies (by A. Barber). The racing, and even racy, sounding piano accompaniment to this was fantastic.

Katiusak la mujer rusa 1 (The Russian Woman by P. Sorozabel) had an altogether more melancholy feel, and was delicately, hauntingly and beautifully delivered by Coral Polifonica. The second part of this confirmed its European flavour, and in fact I was surprised many times in the evening by how often I felt a slight Germanic oom pah sound attached to the more joyful numbers.

Mazurca de las sombrilla de Luisa Fernanda  (Mazurcan of umbrellas) was written by F. Moreno Torroba and, like many of the pieces, suggested, even to those of who could not understand the language, a male / female dialogue was taking place. I heard faint echoes of the hook line from Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, but these were perhaps suggested by the sudden and dramatic drop into a solo delivery.

After this rendition the male section suddenly wove their way back upstairs, perhaps to retire to the snooker room. That left the ladies to deliver Coro de Barquilleros de Agua, which translates to ‘water, sugar cube and spirits’ (a composition by F. Chapi), and what a delivery they gave us. Once again the bass notes of the piano introduction seemed to add an enjoyable oom pah sound to a song that sounded like the passing on of gossip and sharing of secrets. The ladies performed this with wit and a real sense of fun.

A more gentle introduction on the piano led us to the surprising sound of the males singing from behind the balcony beyond the view of those of us at the back and Coro de Romanticos de Dna, Francisquita sounded like the love song suggested by the title, written by A. Vives.

The closing number was Don Manolito (by P.Sorozabal) was a song of two such distinct halves as to be almost two seperate songs. The males returned to their places on the central staircase to open another gender dialogue with a gentle , sweet sound until the piano suddenly turned into a gallop for the ladies to offer their response to whatever sweet nothings the men had been whispering.

The entire audience rose to their feet as one and the bravos and encores were shouted loud and long. This had been a heart warming performance of harmonies, longeurs and crescendo delivered by The Coral Polifonica with real zest and personality to complement the musical evidence of their vocal qualities and the skill of their pianist and the empathy, (and obvious delight) of their musical director.

It was a free concert that had I paid a hundred pounds for in Manchester I would have still have left feeling delighted by what I had seen and heard. There are three further ‘free’ April concerts  advertised in the magazine, and I intend to be there, ready to receive more great value for money !