COSTA Rica’s musical stars are stalling their tours of the smog and glamour of Costa Rica’s premier concert venues for a backwoods respite in Monteverde, in the north-central region of the country. The construction of the Monteverde Amphitheater at Las Bromelias has anchored this Northern Zone town to the band circuit. Not that it would have taken so much. In this hill country, booted legions of biology students, researchers and touring wildlife aficionados have long laid claims.
But art galleries and music festivals also have a chapter in Monteverde’s history book, right after the one on pines and poison dart frogs. The new amphitheater, coupled with nostalgia for music festivals past, has drawn capacity crowds from among the sampler platter of residents and visitors –people such as the Quakers who dodged the U.S. draft in the early 1950s, backpackers ,entrepreneurs, hippies, English teachers, jungle guides, the gamut of artists, birdwatchers, zip-liners, cheesemakers, hoteliers, novelists, naturalists, pacifists, host families, clod-footed salsa students, their hip-shaking teachers, masseuses and college grads dodging the real world. Not to mention the entourage of Costa Rica’s elite musicians and dancers.
Owner Patricia Maynard inaugurated the stage with an invitation to the internationally acclaimed instrumental trio Editus, which played a tireless full week of nightly concerts to sell-out crowds. ARCHITECT Georges Yazbeck designed the amphitheater that looks like a flower cocooning the stage – like a cement bulge – elegant and colored ruddy orange, with concrete petals clinging at the edges and the whole configuration swooping to a point high above the stage.
From inside, the stage is notched into appointed arch and surrounded by fluted walls that might lend the theater whatever acoustic powers it has. The terraced seats can accommodate200 people and are bared to the imminent forest, the trees quaking in the seasonal stiff winds just feet from the spectators. They are protected under five steeply pitched, steel-framed arches stretched between with vinyl sheets like cracked hang gliders.
Before the sun sets on the early evening concerts, you can see the trees and crinkled hills around the theater through the wide gap between the roof and the dome above the stage. Maynard said she’s “dreamed of building an amphitheater for several years now,” frustrated as she was with the lack of an adequate facility for concerts in the area.
The seats are cement and hard – visitors recognize the regulars by the blankets and cushions they bring for the show. “THIS place has always supported the arts,” Kay Chornook, one of the event organizers, said. “The Quaker settlers held monthly family nights where families would alternately take turns entertaining each other,” she added. A tradition of public performance has extended from those sunny early years. It’s enhanced now with soaring acoustics, amplification, and beer, wine and specialty coffees within arm’s reach.
As if trying to match the crowd’s variety-pack style, the list of headliners has been just as eclectic, including the modern dance group, Diquis Tiquis; the saxophone quartet with a drummer, Sonsax; Caribbean crooner Luis Ángel Castro; and Celtic-music group Peregrino Gris, and others are yet to come. THE third performing group and second musical act to follow Editus, Sonsax(269-8309, 385-9104, www.sonsax.com)played a jazzy, danceable set of mambo, salsa, funk and Latin jazz-tinged tunes, with a little bit of hooing and bluesy throat clearing, to a robust crowd of about 50,which filled most of the seating tiers and left shake room for dancers .
After the show, they agreed the sound far surpassed anything they had played in the area before. Maynard’s towheaded teenage son Mark mans the lights in a sound booth perched on the back row with a bird’s-eye view of the theater. His work doesn’t go unnoticed; one jazz fan commented that this is one stage where the performers’ faces aren’t hidden in the shadow of an amateurish light tech.
This is the latest of Maynard’s musical ventures. The former cellist for the National Youth Symphony Orchestra directed the Monteverde Music Festival and other events, produced the album “Symbiosis: Piano and Rainforest” by internationally acclaimed pianist Manuel Obregón, and is nearing completion of “Nativa” with Carlos “Tapado” Vargas, drummer for us and the national superstar band Mal país, and Alex Villegas. The theater is butted against the Las Bromelias boutique of music, clothing and natural soaps and oils, featuring some of Costa Rica’s and Central America’s greatest and hardest-to-find recordings.
Below the boutique, and perhaps more important to concertgoers, the Moon Shiva restaurant serves Mediterranean and Mexican feasts and drinks, and offers discounts with ticket stubs (645-6270).Tickets cost ¢2,500 ($5.50) for Costa Ricans and residents, and $15 for visitors. For information, call 645-6272 or 645-6093, or e-mail email@example.com.