|José Daniel Mojica
We always jump at the chance to hear zarzuela; when we were alerted to a production of José Serrano's La Dolorosa we knew there was no place we would rather be on Saturday night. That it was being produced by a small company heretofore unknown to us--Divaria Productions--was an added inducement. That one of the four leading roles was being performed by Amaya Arberas whom we reviewed twice before (see archive) sealed the deal.
The somewhat abridged production was mounted in collaboration with the Spanish company La Rioja Lirica and was charmingly introduced by Mr. Angel Capellán from the Spanish consulate who discussed this uniquely Spanish art form, filled with vitality and passion. For those readers unfamiliar with zarzuela, it is the Spanish counterpart to operetta and was very popular in Latin American countries from about the mid 19th c. to the mid 20th c. The plots can be funny or tragic but the music is always glorious.
La Dolorosa is a love story--young innocent love between Perico (tenor Anton Armendariz Diaz) and Nicasia (soprano Amaya Arberas) and ambivalent mature love between Dolores (soprano Ashley Bell) and Rafael (José Daniel Mojica). Dolores and Rafael were sweethearts from the same village where she was seduced and abandoned by someone else. The broken-hearted Rafael had come to a monastery where he is painting a portrait of the Virgin who has Dolores' face.
Fate has arranged that Dolores has wandered far from home with her newborn and has collapsed on the road where she is rescued by a local couple, José and Juana. Perico, Rafael's apprentice, recognizes her resemblance to the portrait. The remainder of the story is how Rafael comes to realize that his motivation to protect this woman and her baby is greater than his devotion to spiritual pursuits. The Prior (Eliam Fuentes) is a humanist and accepts Rafael's departure. We cannot help wondering how the Spain of 1930 reacted to such a rejection of religion and embracing of humanism.
The performances were, in every case, first-rate. Soprano Ashley Bell has a fine full voice that is strong in the lower register and brilliant in the upper register. She was convincing as the dishonored woman and sang especially well in a glorious duet with Rafael in Act II. She is also the President of Divaria Productions.
Soprano Amaya Arberas has a bright resonant instrument which she uses well. She was particularly charming in a duet with Perico in which they plan their wedding.
Tenor José Daniel Mojica has a sweet generous voice that is filled with sazón, the Spanish equivalent of the garlic in the voice of an Italian tenor. He created a sympathetic portrait of a man unable to forget his lost love and struggling with his own ambivalence --religious obligation versus a secular and humanistic life. He was particularly moving in his confessional aria towards the end; this would make a wonderful stand-alone concert aria.
Tenor Anton Armendariz Diaz made a fine Perico, the none-too-bright assistant to the painter Rafael. Not only does he have a pleasing voice but he also served as director.
The only low voice in this zarzuela was that of El Prior, played by Eliam Fuentes whose bass-baritone filled the bill nicely. His compassionate demeanor was in counterpoint to that of the rigid close-minded Lucas (non-singer Ngo Okafor) who thought Rafael was under the influence of Satan.
The work was performed in the magnificent basilica of the original St. Patrick's Cathedral in Soho, dating to the early 19th c. This historic landmark has a major asset--the only large 19th c. pipe organ left in the U.S. in its original space. Its 2500 pipes, expertly played by Jared Lamenzo, provided much of the accompaniment with pianist Marnie Laird supplying the remainder.
The acoustics of the basilica were kinder to the singers than to the actors, although Rafael Abolafia came across well as José. As Juana his wife, Nana Gouvea was excessively histrionic and her words were swallowed up in the vast space.
Special mention must be made of the Basilica Schola which served as the chorus under the direction of Joshua South.