La Vida Breve
Gallardo-Domâs, Corbacho; de León, Bou; Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Maazel. Production: del Monaco. C Major 710708 (DVD) or 710804 (Blu-ray),
81 mins., subtitled
Never really an audience favorite or a true repertory staple, Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve remains an uneasy hybrid of opera and dance. Straining for the pungency of Cavalleria Rusticana, which it resembles in plot and length (well under ninety minutes), it boasts a catchy, atmospheric score. But its story and character development are sketchy at best, and it gets bogged down in an excess of flamenco dance and song that saps dramatic momentum.
Giancarlo del Monaco’s 2010 production at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia solves some of the problems with a truly striking visual scheme. (He is credited as stage director and set designer.) The entirety of the opera is bathed in deep red, from abstract unit set to lighting to many of the costumes. The principals, in dark black, stand out against this oppressive, enveloping background of fire and blood. Del Monaco and his talented costume designer Jesús Ruiz set the opera in the late-’20s to early-’30s period of Brilliantined men and Marcelled women, who stand in contrast to the tragic, copiously maned Gypsy heroine Salud. There is little actual scenery aside from nonrepresentational backdrops and a few chairs, which heightens the effect of Salud’s growing madness. Act II is dominated by a huge whirring ceiling fan, which slowly descends closer and closer to the principals’ heads like some kind of executioner’s weapon.
The two brief acts are performed without a break, and del Monaco keeps Salud onstage at all times — a real test for the acting skills of the soprano singing the role. Cristina Gallardo-Domâs was probably effective in the live performance, with her very physical emoting and her oversized features. These become a liability, however, under the closeup scrutiny of the video camera. No one could accuse Gallardo-Domâs of underplaying, with all the bosom-heaving and gut-clutching. (The latter may be del Monaco’s attempt to suggest she has been impregnated by her caddish aristocratic lover Paco.) But her physical and facial contortions, exaggerated by her googly eyes, have an uncomfortably cartoonish quality when seen on the home screen. In vocal terms, she gives a hundred and ten percent, but that clearly has taken a toll on her middle and lower registers, which sound patchy and worn.
The only other principal singer of distinction is María Luisa Corbacho, who rolls out impressive contralto tones as Salud’s Mamma Lucia-ish grandmother. As Salud’s uncle Sarvaor, Felipe Bou is raspy and unsteady. As the seducer Paco, Jorge de León neither looks nor sounds the role, and his tenor is beset by an intrusive wobble.
Flamenco singer Esperanza Fernández has a powerful non-operatic moment in which she seizes attention with her solo. Pretty it is not. Her ear-splitting flamenco braying and wailing are almost shocking in this classical context, yet riveting all the same.
Conducting the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Lorin Maazel extracts the maximum impact possible from this flawed work. Video director Tiziano Mancini makes effective use of superimpositions and dissolves, particularly during Salud’s lengthy Act I scena.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.