Doña Francisquita – nicely sung zarzuela on stage at Barcelona’s Liceu

SpainSpain Amadeo Vives, Doña Francisquita: Liceu Orchestra and Chorus / Óliver Díaz (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 11 & 12.11.2019. (JMI)

Doña Francisquita (c) A. Bofill


Director – Lluis Pasqual
Sets and Costumes – Alejandro Andújar
Lighting – Pascal Mérat
Choreography – Nuria Castejón

Doña Francisquita – María José Moreno / Elena Sancho Pereg
Fernando – Celso Albelo / Antonio Lozano
Aurora ‘La Beltrana’ – Ana Ibarra
Cardona – Alejandro del Cerro
Lorenzo – Isaac Galán
Don Matías – Miguel Sola
Doña Francisca – María José Suárez

Zarzuela is not often found on the program at Barcelona’s Liceu, but Doña Francisquita is an exception: it has been performed here a total of 46 times, most recently in July 2010. Undoubtedly, the fact that Amadeo Vives (1871-1932) was Catalan may have something to do with the presence of his work at the Liceu.

This new production by Catalan director Lluis Pasqual had its premiere in Madrid last May. It is one more example of a staging which, rather than being at the service of the opera (or zarzuela), does the exact opposite. Pasqual sets the three acts in three different time periods: Act I takes place in 1934 in a recording studio; the second act in 1964 on a television set, where some sort of musical is being broadcast; and Act III in the present time at a play rehearsal in a theater. The sets are almost nonexistent – there is nothing, really, in the first and second acts and in the third a screen is placed at the back of the stage and images are projected. The costumes are appropriate.

One is used to seeing heavy cuts to the dialogues in contemporary zarzuela – they are not usually of great interest from today’s perspective. But here the original dialogues are eliminated and replaced by ones presented by the record producer, the TV program director and, finally, the stage director at the play rehearsal. Act I is basically a concert version, with the soloists in front and the chorus placed behind them. The second act is a succession of musical numbers, typical of an evening program on television. And in the third act, a dance group performs a fandango.

The musical direction was in the hands of Óliver Díaz, who has always seemed to me a remarkable conductor. However, on this occasion his reading fell short, and the sound that came out of the Liceu pit was one of the poorest I have heard in this theater. The Liceu is not an exceptional group, but they have done better in the past.

Doña Francisquita was played in the first cast by María José Moreno. Her voice is well suited to the character, and she always gives a fine performance in whatever part she sings. In the second cast, Elena Sancho Pereg, whose career has been developing mostly in Germany, was not totally convincing. Her voice is too light for the role of Doña Francisquita, which demands a wider voice. She was at her best in the ‘Nightingale’ aria, particularly in the high notes.

Tenor Celso Albelo sang the part of Fernando in the first cast. He has an attractive and appropriate voice for the role and sang with gusto. He stood out in the much-awaited aria, ‘Por el humo se sabe dónde está el fuego’ (‘from the smoke one knows where the fire is’). Antonio Lozano gave life to Fernando in the second cast, but he was less impressive. His voice has lost some quality, and I found him rather tight at the top. In addition, his expressiveness leaves a lot to be desired.

The rest of the cast was the same for both performances. Ana Ibarra as Aurora ‘La Beltrana’ did nicely but with some excess vibrato. She was especially good in the comic duet with Cardona in the final act. Cardona was played by tenor Alejandro del Cerro, and I found him improved from past productions. In the secondary characters, Isaac Galán as Lorenzo, María José Suárez as Doña Francisca and Miguel Sola as Don Matías all did well.

The excellent castanet playing by veteran Lucero Tena should be noted. He received the biggest ovation of the night.

José M. Irurzun 

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