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Luisa Fernanda - Federico Moreno Torroba
Los Angeles Opera, June 3 - 16, 2007
The flower falls from the garden of my
heart, a line from the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda,
encapsulates the romantic beauty and wonder of this Spanish theatrical art form. The
floral line also reinforces the scenic touches made in Washington National Operas
production that features Placido Domingo, the son of renowned zarzuela singers.
Zarzuela is popular opera with spoken dialogue that depicts the lives and loves of the Spanish people. The form was created in the 1640s near Madrid under the patronage of Philip IV of Spain who wanted entertainment for his lodge. The lodge, which he named La Zarzuela, had been built on a site overgrown with blackberries vines known in Spanish as zarzuela. The art form zarzuela flourished into the twentieth century including many new works by composer Federico Moreno Torroba who wrote Luisa Fernanda based on libretto written by Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernandez Shaw. Luisa Fernanda premiered in 1932.
Luisa Fernanda is a young woman who loves an undeserving young man named Javier. Javier, who seeks adventure and the thrill of conquest, falls under the influence of the Duchess Carolina. The Duchess convinces Javier to become a soldier in Queen Isabella IIs royal army so he can fight the revolutionaries of the Republican army. Consequently, Luisas friend Mariana advises the lovelorn girl to meet Vidal Hernando, a rich landowner who has come to Madrid to find a wife. Luisa flirts with Vidal but tells him that she loves someone else. Completely smitten, Vidal joins the revolution to counter Javier and win the heart of Luisa who passionately supports the peoples fight against the monarchy.
Eventually the battles are fought and resolved in favor of the revolution and the marriage of Luisa to Vidal. However, on the eve of the wedding, a repentant Javier shows up seeking reunion with Luisa. Luisa says love is a strange poisonthe more cruel, the sweeter the taste. She begs her heart to sleep, so that her feelings will not grow or blossom. She chooses to stay and marry Vidal. However, Vidal understands that Luisa will never fully love him and so with great sacrifice to his own well being, he tells her to go.
Tenor Placido Domingo sings Vidal, a role that is normally sung by a baritone. In zarzuela, baritones usually have the featured role. Domingo has a long history with Luisa Fernanda and its composer Federico Moreno Torroba. His parents sang the roles of Luisa and Vidal while they toured Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba for two years with Moreno Torrobas zarzuela company. When Domingo was sixteen and touring Mexico with his father in another zarzuela company, the featured tenor in Luisa Fernanda became ill and the younger Domingo was asked to replace the ailing performer for one performance. It was Domingos debut as a tenor.
In this Washington National Opera production, Domingo sings the role of Vidal with such tenderness and aching passion, it seems as if he created the words and music himself. In the song Luche la fe por el triunfo, Vidal tells his revolutionary comrades that he fights for their ideals to win the light of her love. For Luisa, Vidal would give his honor, his life, his hearts blood.
Mezzo-soprano Marķa Jose Montiel as Luisa Fernanda achieves an earthy presence, earning Vidals nickname for her as his girl of my hills. In Act II she both tells off the Duchess Carolina with revolutionary fervor but she also defends Javier from being killed by a band of revolutionary soldiers. In sudden reversals, royal army soldiers rescue Javier and then the freed Javier tries to arrest Vidal. When Nogales, another revolutionary, steps forward and says he is the one to arrest, Javier loses interest and leaves with Carolina. Neglected again, Luisa then tells Vidal she will marry him.
Dance is an integral part of zarzuela and two dance scenes in Luisa Fernanda make WNOs production particularly memorable. The first, a habanera called the "Mazurca de las sombrillas" (the Parasol Mazurka), occurs in the second act. Men in cutaway tuxedos with top hats court ladies in long gowns who spin lacy white parasols as the men sing, Open your parasol or the sun may die of jealousy. The second notable dance scene occurs as Vidal prepares for the wedding by providing entertainment for all of his and Luisas guests. This dance in WNOs production is a bomba, an improvised circle dance done outdoors in which the dancers try to approximate the shape of a rose. Using grapevine steps around a large leafy tree, the dancers weave in and out creating a scalloped circle.
Director Emilio Sagi chose a classic and minimalist look for this production. Props on stage are dominated by chairs, gauzy curtains, and one lush leafy tree in the third act. In one scene, a single rose hangs from the rigging against a see-through curtain. Costumes are monochrome white to beige. A miniature model in white of old Madrid sits at the front of the stage. Just before the curtain opens on Act III, a little girl carries a potted plant to the miniature town and places it inside the walls. When the curtain opens, the landscape centers on a large tree as if the lens on the model of Madrid has suddenly expanded. Despite the modern spareness of Paul Taylors set design, the effect of the emphasis on flowers and trees gives an old-world courtliness that is reinforced by the large cast of singers and dancers in period costumes.
Washington, November 9, 2004 - Karren Alenier