A national monument in Spain, Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve is perhaps the greatest opera ever written in the Spanish language. A kind of “tragic zarzuela”, it unites verismo atmosphere, Andalusian local colour and a score shimmering with reminiscences of French Impressionism. Written in 1905, La vida breve is the story of a poor gypsy and her lover, who is engaged to wed a wealthy girl. “Simply a stroke of genius”, wrote Spain’s Opera Viva about Giancarlo del Monaco’s austere, minimalist staging at Valencia’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. Maestro Lorin Maazel, whom El País hailed as the “triunfador” of the evening, leadsRead more an exquisite array of soloists headed by Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Jorge de León and María Luisa Corbacho.
Manuel de Falla
LA VIDA BREVE
Salud – Cristina Gallardo-Domâs
Paco – Jorge de León
La abuela María – María Luisa Corbacho
El tio Sarvaor – Felipe Bou
Carmela – Sandra Ferrández
1º and 3º vendedora - Sandra Ferrández
2º vendedora – Natalia Lunar
Manuel – Isaac Galán
Una voz en la fragua – Antonio Lozano
Flamenco singer – Esperanza Fernández
Flamenco guitarist – Juan Carlos Gómez Pastor
Valencia Regional Government Choir (Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana) Valencian Community Orchestra (Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana) Lorin Maazel, conductor
Giancarlo del Monaco, stage director and set designer
Jesús Ruiz, costume designer
Wolfgang von Zoubeck, lighting designer
Goyo Montero, choreographer
Recorded live from the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, Valencia, Spain, 2010
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Spanish, English, German, French
Running time: 81 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W:
FALLA La vida breve • Lorin Maazel, cond; Cristina Gallardo-Domâs (Salud); Jorge de León (Paco); María Luisa Corbacho (Grandmother); Felipe Bou (Uncle Sarvaor); Sandra Ferrández (Flamenco Singer); Ode la Generalitat Valenciana • C MAJOR 710708 (DVD: 81:00) Live: Valencia Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia 4/17/2010
La vida breve is a gift to stage directors and design teams. Its deliberate ambiguities—where is the action taking place; is it all meant to be considered as occurring in reality; what do you do when so much of the music is orchestral only, even in sections that feature short vocal moments?—allow considerable leeway to interpretation, more so than in most operas. And stage directors typically enjoy having that kind of control over a production. In this 2010 production, everything is tied to the young Gypsy girl, Salud. The men working the forge and the girl selling baskets are never seen, but Salud hears them, walking around a nearly empty stage with a starkly towering, mottled red backdrop. It is in effect Salud’s head, and heart. It is only when the characters directly interact with her that we know we have moved back into something resembling a realistic frame.
Stage director and set designer Giancarlo del Monaco (and yes, in case you were wondering, it is Mario’s son) is consistently clever in integrating Salud everywhere in the opera. The interlude between acts is presented as a duet danced before Salud between two figures in wealthy wedding finery: Our heroine’s intuition, or fears, at work, as she believes Paco is being unfaithful. The chorus then enters while she watches, followed by Paco and his fiancée, all of it done slowly as in a dream; a fire blazes behind a life-sized cross, in front of which a woman stands, arms extended as though crucified. She moves away from the cross, turning into a singer who in folk tradition praises the soon-to-be married couple. All of this is ambiguous, and more is to follow. The singer has a gritty, guttural voice, unattractive but compelling: Perhaps to celebrate passion at its most dangerous and impersonal—or is her voice just being perceived this way by Salud, still viewing events as though in a vision?
With so much emphasis on Salud’s internal dialog, I suspect something more final than the written ending conclusion to La vida breve—willing herself to death as a supreme insult to her former lover who has publicly denied any affair—was felt necessary at the opera’s conclusion. In del Monaco’s staging she feigns severe hurt, and as Paco approaches, reaches out her hand to grasp his, forcing her concealed dagger into it. She then thrusts herself upon the weapon, and dies. This production foregoes props, aside from chairs. The costumes are period-effective without attracting undo attention, mainly underscoring the class and wealth differences that drive Paco away from Salud with white lace against black linen.
It would take a fine singer and actress to make this conception of La vida breve work, one who was expected to be on stage the entire time, moving and reacting when she wasn’t the center of attention. Cristina Gallardo-Domâs is fortunately up to the task. The Chilean soprano’s dark chest register and soaring, lyrical top encompass the vocal requirements, and she is a strong enough actor to remain expressively in character the rest of the time for this emotionally draining role. Jorge de León acts well, too, but his bright lyric tenor is tight with pressure, and he has a regular wobble when singing above piano. María Luisa Corbacho also shows a loosening of vibrato, but that’s not unexpected as the grandmother, while Felipe Bou brings firmness of tone to his small part. Lorin Maazel plays to the score’s color, rhythmic bite, and acute dissonances. His firm tempos and solid grasp of the drama are welcome.
The camerawork is first-rate, both varying distances, and holding shots for as long as they’re important. There are no DVD extras, unless you consider trailers for other operatic DVDs (including a very strange-looking Theodora) as useful content. Subtitles are in Spanish, English, French, and German, with PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 as the sound options. The video format is 16:9. The booklet contains good cut listings and some brief, useful history on the opera, but reproduces a short synopsis that doesn’t reflect the changes (such as the ending) in the current production. This would still be a viable recommendation had the production been less considered, and the performers less able. After all, where else are you going to turn? But as good as this is, I have no hesitation in recommending it heartily.
La vida breveby Manuel de Falla Performer:
Maria Luisa Corbacho (Mezzo Soprano),
Jorge De León (Tenor),
Cristina Gallardo-Domâs (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1904-1905; Spain
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Debussy and Falla - a triumphSeptember 27, 2012By BURTON A JONES, JR. (Manvel, TX)See All My Reviews"I love Debussy and Falla for different reasons: Debussy for his coolness and Falla for his Spanish fire.This a memorable La Merand should please any lover of this piece. While the Debussy is perhaps overplayed, why are beautiful scores of Falla so neglected? The orchestra is terrific. The soprano,Elisabete Matos, has so little to do it would seem hardly worthwhile to appear. The Boulez doesn't interest me at all."Report Abuse
A bit too artsy-fartsyJuly 27, 2012By Edwin K. (Toronto, ON)See All My Reviews"It has been about sixty tears since I have seen a staging of this work, and I have long wanted to see one again. Two of the aria from the opera were Victoria de Los Angeles debut on commercial recordings. Since then, there have been many audio recordings, starting with Los Angeles first, monophonic recording, conducted by Ernesto Halffter.
The present one comes from Valencia, staged at the Queen Sophia Palace of the Arts, which we see in the introduction; one of the most beautiful concert halls I have seen.
The audio part of this DVD is excellent, with a vigorous performance led by Lorin Maazel, not a name usually associated with Spanish music.
The visual part leaves me with some reservations. The entire production, both acts, is illuminated in shades of red, as if there had been a sale on red light bulbs at Wal-Mart, or the Valencian equivalent thereof.
The first act takes place in Saluds house, and the second, at Pacos wedding. The same set is used for both, a huge, stone-lined space, maybe a left-over bomb shelter from the Spanish Civil War. It is sparsely furnished, mainly with chairs, over which Salud drapes herself in various agonized positions, while waiting for Paco, who isnt even late, during Act I.
(The time of Pacos expected arrival seems to be in doubt, however. The English sub-titles have him saying that its seven, while to sung Spanish dinstinctly says sei not siete.)