Kelly Guerra and Marcelo Guzzo
Things have a way of coming full circle. It was Maestro Jorge Parodi who taught us everything we know about the art of zarzuela and launched our deep interest in this art form. And now several years have elapsed and it is Mo. Parodi who, having taken over the reins of Opera Hispanica as General and Artistic Director, brought one of our favorite zarzuelas to the stage! He has done so in an accessible fashion, emphasizing the gorgeous melodies of Federico Moreno Torroba's 1932 masterpiece Luisa Fernanda and omitting the confusing Republican versus Royalist politics of 1868 during the reign of Isabel II.
Although some day we would love to see the work produced in toto, for the time being we were more than satisfied to hear the memorable melodies sung by an excellent Panamerican cast, accompanied by Mo. Parodi himself at the piano, joined by violinist Mia Nardi-Huffman. We were delighted but not at all surprised that Mo. Parodi accomplished the excellent reduction of the lavish orchestral score.
Like many zarzuelas, the story of Luisa Fernanda is a combination of romantic issues and political ones. Poor Luisa, sensitively sung by Peruvian mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra, is enamored of the dashing military man Javier, (dashingly performed by tenorific Mexican César Delgado) who happens to be a "player". He surprises everyone by falling for the Duchess Carolina (seductively sung by Puerto Rican soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi) and switching political affiliations. Meanwhile Luisa is being courted by the wealthy landowner Vidal (authoritatively performed by Uruguayan baritone Marcelo Guzzo) who switches his political affiliations to win Luisa's affection. What political turmoil there was in 1862 Spain, matched only by the characters' romantic turmoil! We are not going to tell you the romantic outcome.
By eliminating the dialogue and extraneous characters, Mo. Parodi allowed the audience at the Instituto Cervantes (a most appreciative audience, we might add) to focus on each character's emotional shifts, which are so well delineated by Torroba's music. No doubt, the melodies may sound as familiar to your ears as they did to ours and, be warned, may lead to an infestation of "ear worms". We have been humming the themes all day!
The work was performed with minimal set but authentic period costumes by Eric Lamp, lending an air of verisimilitude.
Mo. Parodi, himself an Argentinian, succeeded on so many levels, from adapting the score to finding an attractive quartet of gifted singers who had the right style and the acting chops to make us care about the characters.
Fortunately, the opera world has not seen the end of this gem, since it will be performed at Opera in Williamsburg on May 13th. We left with our appetite appeased but somehow a hunger for more. Let us hope that this project will be developed further.
© meche kroop