The always popular Luisa Fernanda is back at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela

SpainSpain Moreno Torroba, Luisa Fernanda: Chorus of the Teatro de la Zarzuela, Comunidad de Madrid Orchestra / Miguel Gómez Martínez (conductor). Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid, 23 and 24.6.2023. (JMI)

Juan Jesús Rodríguez (Vidal Hernando), Carmen Artaza (Luisa Fernanda) and Ismael Jordi (Javier Moreno) © E. del Real

Director – Davide Livermore
Sets – Giò Forma
Costumes – Mariana Fracasso
Lighting – Antonio Castro
Choreography – Nuria Castejón

Luisa Fernanda – Carmen Artaza / Amparo Navarro
Vidal Hernando – Juan Jesús Rodríguez / Rubén Amorett
Javier Moreno – Ismael Jordi / Alejandro del Cerro
Duquesa Carolina – Sabina Puértolas / Rocío Ignacio
Doña Mariana – María José Suárez
El Saboyano – Francisco José Pardo
Luis Nogales – Antonio Torres
Aníbal – Didier Otaola
Rosita – Nuria García Arrés

Luisa Fernanda is one of the most popular zarzuelas, and one that continues to appeal greatly to the public, as evidenced by the fact that all performances here have been sold out months in advance. It premiered in Madrid in 1932 and was very successful, and it has not lost any popularity. Suffice it to say that eleven different productions have occupied the stage at the Teatro de la Zarzuela since that premiere.

Teatro de la Zarzuela’s Luisa Fernanda (Act I) © E. del Real

Teatro de la Zarzuela premiered the current production of Luisa Fernanda a couple of years ago, but had the bad luck of coinciding with the Covid pandemic, and the performances thus were not as successful as anticipated. Now it is being staged again, and one can almost consider this to be its premiere.

Teatro de la Zarzuela made a significant effort to get one of today’s most prestigious stage directors to take charge – Davide Livermore – but I did not find his work convincing. Livermore focuses on the 1932 premiere of Luisa Fernanda and what movie theatres meant in those days, converting cinema into the protagonist of the production. In Act I, he reproduces the façade of Cine Doré in Madrid, famous at the time, where images of spectators arriving are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. The zarzuela characters move about and sing at the front while the images continue to be projected at the back. All of this is somewhat confusing.

In Act II, a large arch from the Doré cinema appears; the action continues at the front of the stage with images still projected in the background. The plot is narrated well, despite the rather odd sets, and the costumes correspond to the 1930s. There is a dance group in the famous mazurka of the umbrellas, and in the final act.

Teatro de la Zarzuela’s Luisa Fernanda (Act II) © E. del Real

The musical direction was in the hands of Miguel Gómez Martínez, who offered a good reading. The best of his conducting took place in Act III, where he controlled any excess sound from the orchestra; it was a problem at times in the first two acts. We missed the Madrid Community Orchestra’s usual high-quality sound. The chorus of the Teatro de la Zarzuela was fine.

Luisa Fernanda was to have been interpreted by mezzo-soprano María José Montiel, but she canceled a few days ago. Her place was taken by the young Carmen Artaza, who was satisfactory in the role but not particularly brilliant. The second Luisa Fernanda was soprano Amparo Navarro, whose performance was not convincing. Her voice is tight on the high notes and does not have much appeal. In my opinion, she fell below Carmen Artaza in the first cast.

Vidal Hernando was sung by Juan Jesús Rodríguez, one of the most important baritone voices today. He has the strongest voice of the quartet of protagonists, but he offered more voice than emotion. In the second cast, Vidal Hernando was played by Rubén Amoretti. He was a tenor years ago, but physical problems made him change his voice, and in recent years his presence as bass has been constant. Here he sang a baritone part, and he did well in every aspect.

Tenor Ismael Jordi as Javier Moreno gave a good performance. He is an excellent singer, although his voice does not have a timbre that excites. In the second cast, Alejandro del Cerro’s voice had no problems reaching throughout the auditorium, but he is not a paragon in his singing technique.

Duchess Carolina was interpreted by soprano Sabina Puértolas, who was outstanding – she has a voice suited to the role and sang with gusto. In the second cast, I found soprano Rocío Ignacio much more erratic in her delivery than on previous occasions.

The secondary characters were covered nicely. Among them, I would point out tenor Francisco José Pardo as El Saboyano, who sang the ‘Soldadito’ with which the zarzuela opens.

José M. Irurzun

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