Rosita Fornes: Woman in a Flag Smiling

by Ana María Ruimonte,
Phoenix, July 24, 2020

I want to say good-bye to the great singer and actress Rosita Fornés with this note. She died at her home in Miami on June 10, and her mortal remains rest in the cemetery Colón in Havana. Rosita Fornés was born in New York, but her parents emigrated from Spain to Cuba. She captured my attention while I was recording songs by Ernesto Lecuona with the pianist Huberal Herrera. I tried to meet her in person during one of my travels to Havana and after that in Miami, but it didn’t happen.

Ernesto Lecuona and the artists who collaborated with him seem to me to have become surrounded by a kind of aura of distrust. In her youth, she sang works by Ernesto Lecuona, who discovered her and invited her to collaborate in his own lyric company. Indeed, she very frequently sang zarzuelas by the Spanish composer Pablo Sorozábal. In 1952 Sorozábal had to abruptly leave his position as principal conductor of the Madrid’s Orquesta Sinfónica, when the regime of the dictator Franco forbade him to conduct the Leningrad Symphony by Shostakovich. Pablo Sorozábal was the last creative composer of Spanish zarzuelas. This genre often criticized civil society and the politicians of the times through parody.

Ernesto Lecuona was a composer who also showed clearly his position against the impositions of the Castro revolution. Before the revolution he composed great zarzuelas that showed the problems of racial discrimination in Cuba. Together with the librettist Sánchez Galarraga he denounced poverty and injustice in Cuban society. Indeed, he introduced Afro-Cubanism by utilizing African rhythms and melodies in his compositions.

Rosita Fornés was also an actress in theater and cinema and lived and worked in Spain, Cuba, the United States, Venezuela and Mexico. Rosita Fornés employed the arts to tie together all those countries and Spanish-Latino communities. She left us a great artistic legacy in a crucial time, and she overcame all the political and social barriers she encountered in her life, from the Spanish Civil war, through the Cuban Revolution and the Cold War. Rosita Fornés was a woman dressed in a flag with her smile.

About the author: Ana María Ruimonte is a Spanish classical singer naturalized in the US, specialized in lyrical theatre. She recorded several CDs in Cuba and the United States titled “Rosas para Lecuona” (Roses for Lecuona), “Con Rodrigo en Cuba” (With Rodrigo in Cuba), “Sencillamente Martí”, “Alma y Vida de Mujer” (The Soul and Life of a Woman), “Arded, Corazón, Arded” (Burn, Heart, Burn). Translated into English by Alan Lewine,