Mar 5, 2017

Damisela Encantadora (Enchanting Damsel)

Benito H. Prats at the Piano in 1978
Mariana M. Prats in the red and black sweater, singing
Their brand-new daughter-in-law in the foreground
This was Benito and Mariana’s song. Benito H. Prats would play it from memory on the piano and his wife Mariana Martínez — Mariana M. Prats when they got to Maryland — would stop what she was doing and sing it. If someone else was playing it they might dance to it. It is a waltz.

Drop down to the fifth paragraph and start the audio file you'll find there so it plays as you read the rest of this essay.

It was written in 1933 as one of the songs for the now-forgotten operetta Lola Cruz that Ernesto Lecuona composed. But this song was not forgotten. “Damisela Encantadora” became a vocal standard in Cuba and throughout Latin America and Spain, sung over the years by opera singers and vocalists like the Spaniard Placido Domingo, the Mexican Juan Arvizu, the Venezuelan Alfredo Sadel and of course, Esther Borjas, the Cuban soprano and TV personality. Even today, the song is periodically dusted off and covered by some singer in a Spanish-speaking country.

Benito and Mariana would have heard a recent cover of the song during their courtship in Camaguey. A popular band or vocalist would put out an album of standards and the single “Damisela Encantadora” would get radio play and be on everyone’s lips for months. It is a catchy, danceable tune and its saccharine lyrics perfect for those falling in love. Read them for yourself below.



Damisela Encantadora – Vals
Francisco Lomuto y su Orchestra Tipica
Cuba’s closed economy means that I can’t get ahold of a recording from the time of their courtship. So instead, here is a recording from that era from Argentina by the Francisco Lomuto Orchestra with vocalist Jorge Omar that gives you a flavor of the interpretation of this song back then. The vocalist only sings the chorus in this recording. On YouTube you'll find many more versions, most in that affected style of singing that went away by the 1960s. (Good riddance.)

Ernesto Lecuona (1895–1963) was a very prolific Cuban composer and pianist of worldwide fame for both classical and popular music. Lecuona's work influenced the Latin American world in a similar way as his contemporary George Gershwin turned jazz into a classical form of music in the United States, raising Cuban-styled music to classical status. His Andalucia Suite is perhaps his most well-known classical work and “Siboney” one of the most enduring of his popular songs. He recorded for Victor records, and many of his piano performances, including one of “Damisela Encantadora,” are available in the U.S. on the RCA Victor label.

For Mariana’s funeral Mass, we asked the pianist and cantor to sing “Damisela Encantadora” as the closing song, so she and those present would hear it one more time before she went to her rest. Despite the short notice they played and sang it wonderfully.

Damisela encantadora (1933)
Música de Ernesto Lecuona,
Texto de Gustavo Sánchez Galarraga y Ernesto Lecuona
Enchanting Damsel

Por tus ojazos negros
llenos de amor,
por tu boquita roja
que es una flor,
por tu cuerpo de palmera
lindo y gentil,
se muere mi corazón.

Si me quisieras,
figurina de abril,
mi vida entera
yo te daría a ti.
Si tus labios rojos
yo pudiera besar,
moriría de amor.

Damisela encantadora,
damisela, por ti yo muero.
Si me miras, si me besas,
damisela serás mi amor.
(bis)

Cuando a ti los galanes
sin distinción,
te dedican requiebros
con gran pasión,
con tu aire de princesa
bello y juncal,
destrozas mi corazón.

Si tú me dieras
tus caricias de amor,
mi vida entera
se abrasaría de ardor,
y tus labios rojos
yo pudiera besar,
sabrías que es amor.

Damisela encantadora,
damisela, por ti yo muero.
Si me miras, si me besas,
damisela serás mi amor.

Si me miras, si me besas,
damisela serás mi amor.
Longing for your dark eyes, big
and full of love,
for your red mouth
that is a small flower,
for your body like the palm tree
beautiful and gentile,
my … heart … dies.

If you wanted me,
April figurine,
my entire life
I'd give to you.
If your red lips
I’d be allowed to kiss,
I'd die of love.

Enchanting charming damsel,
my lady, for you I’d die
if you glance at me, if you kiss me
then my lady, you’d be my love.
(repeat)

When gallant pretenders
of no distinction,
give you flattering compliments
great with passion,
with a princess’s elegance
pretty and straight,
you break my heart.

If you gave me
your caresses of love,
the fervor would burn
for my whole life,
and if I could kiss,
your red lips
then you’d know it’s love.

Enchanting charming damsel,
my lady, for you I’d die
if you glance at me, if you kiss me
then my lady, you’d be my love.

If you glance at me, if you kiss me
then my lady, you’d be my love.