Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bravo, Luisa Fernanda! Florida Grand Opera's first zarzuela is a gem!

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Luisa Fernanda at the Florida Grand Opera.  This was my first experience with zarzuela, and after I saw the previews, I was really looking forward to it.  I had a very charming date for the evening, in the form of my eight-year-old son.  I wasn't sure whether he would want to go, or if he would enjoy it, since he didn't know the story or any  of the music yet, and (obviously) would not be able to ask me questions during the show. However, he very eagerly accepted the offer, got dressed up in his suit and tie, and excitedly counted off the miles on the drive down to Miami.
Since Luisa Fernanda was new to both of us, we had intended to arrive early enough to attend the pre-performance lecture.  Unfortunately, last-minute pre-Thanksgiving grocery trips were necessary before we set out, and by the time we arrived, it had already begun.  We were, however, early enough to leisurely explore the opera house and browse the books and CDs offered for sale before we found our seats.  After I showed him around, we entered the auditorium with plenty of time to spare, set down our programs, and went to have a look in the orchestra pit.  My son was immediately drawn to the woodwind section, and quickly struck up a conversation with the bassoonist.  The bassoon has always fascinated him, as I played it throughout my youth and often draw his attention to it when it can be picked out from the rest of the orchestra.
When it was almost curtain time, we returned to our seats and went over the synopsis.  Then the lights went down, the conductor came out, and the fun began.  First of all, the music was absolutely delightful.  The melodies were at once beautifully stirring and charmingly captivating, and I found myself smiling throughout the entire evening.  It has been many years since I last attended an opera of which I didn't already know almost every note, but I found that it really didn't matter.  The music felt familiar, as though I had known it for years, and I was quickly swept away by it.  Beside me, my son was sitting in open-mouthed wonder, applauding enthusiastically at every full stop and marveling at the beauty of the voices. 
 Ah, those voices!  Every single one of them was gorgeous.  Antonio Gandia, the tenor who sings the role of Javier, has a beautifully lush, smooth voice.  And while at one or two moments early in the performance it seemed to me that he might not have the strength to project over the full orchestra, as the evening progressed, he quickly disproved that initial impression.  He sang with such a rich warmth that at times, his voice seemed to fill the entire stage with dazzling light.
Amparo Navarro gave a stunningly moving performance as Luisa.  Her voice was full and smsooth, and the melodies seemed to flow from her mouth with ceaseless beauty.  Davinia Rodriguez gave a flawless performance as Carolina, both vocally and dramatically.
Among all these wonderful performances, the real star of the show was Angel Odena, the baritone who sings the role of Vidal.  I admit to being particularly partial to baritone voices, but because of this, I am perhaps more demanding of them than of any other male voice.  That being said, I was very impressed.  Odena's voice was rich, velvety, warm, full, and it was just dark enough to paint an effective portrait of Vidal's personality.  It was a joy to listen to him sing, and I found myself at times just closing my eyes and getting lost in the sound of his voice.

Visually, the production was stunning.  The scenery, which was almost completely white set against black, was very crisp, clean, and refreshing.  The costumes were also all either white or black, and the resulting combination was very striking.  There were lovely dance numbers at several points during the opera, and during one of these in the second act, I looked over at my son and saw his mouth hanging open in gleeful awe.  He had never seen anything quite so beautiful before that wasn't on a television screen.
All in all, it was a truly wonderful performance.  As we left the opera house, my son turned to me and asked me to buy him a DVD of Luisa Fernanda.  (He also used some not-so-age-appropriate language to describe how amazing the whole thing was, but that's beside the point.)  It was a perfect production of a delightful opera, and it was a wonderful introduction to the world of zarzuela.   

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