Falla’s Atlánlida Brilliant Orchestration, But No Masterpiece

Falla: Atlántida, Liceu’s Orchestra and Chorus, Josep Pons (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 28.11.2013. (JMI)

Concert Version

Narrator: Ángel Ódena
Queen Isabel: Ofelia Sala
Pirene: Gemma Coma-Alabert
A Court’s Dame: Ana Tobella
Gerion Tricephalous: David Alegret, Francisco Vas, Alex Sanmartí
Pleiads: María Miró, Elena Copons, Mireia Pintó, Ana Alás i Jové, Inés Moraleda,
Mariel Aguilar and Ana Tobella.

Atlantida is a posthumous work by Manuel de Falla, who left it unfinished at his death in Buenos Aires in 1946; it was completed by his disciple, Ernesto Halffter. It is a scenic cantata rather than a true opera, and is based on a poem by Jacint Verdaguer. Hence the text of the work is in Catalan.

The premiere took place at Liceu in 1961, with Victoria de los Angeles in the cast.  The following year it had its premiere as a stage performance at La Scala, with Giulietta Simionato in the cast. Although it’s hard to believe, recordings of both peformances have disappeared.

What could be called the final version of Atlantida had its premiere in 1976 at Lucerne, with several changes introduced in the score by Ernesto Halffter. This is the version offered now by Liceu, although with several cuts.

The work takes place in two different periods. Most of it is set in ancient and mythological times with gods and demigods present; the last part takes place at the time of America’s discovery and includes the Catholic Queen and several mentions of Columbus.

The work is primarily choral and very demanding. There are two choirs plus a children’s choir, and an orchestra of nearly 100 musicians. The vocal part is rather secondary, with a narrator (baritone) and two ariosos to be sung by mezzo soprano and soprano. The work is less inspired than the best-known compositions by Falla although the orchestration is brilliant. It is an important work, but it is far from being a true masterpiece.

Liceu offered a concert version conducted by its music director, Josep Pons. He did a brilliant reading and drew a good performance from his orchestra. The choirs were also good.

Angel Ódena was the Narrator or Corifeo and, as usually happens with him, he showed an excessive tendency to open sounds, looking unnecessarily for more volume. Gemma Coma-Alabert sang the arioso of Pirene, the mythological Queen of the Pyrenees, and she was acceptable. Ofelia Sala sang with delicacy the arioso of Queen Elizabeth in the last act. In the supporting cast I should mention  Francisco Vas as one of the Gerion Tricephalous.

The Liceu was at about 80% of capacity. The audience was rather cold at the final bows.

Jose Mª. Irurzun

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