Luisa Fernanda (Teatro de la Zarzuela) Set model (boceto)

Luisa Fernanda
lyric comedy in three acts

Libretto: Federico Romero y Guillermo Fernández-Shaw
música: Federico Moreno Torroba

Teatro de la Zarzuela
(Madrid, 21 June 2023)

reviewed by

Considering that a complete recording of Luisa Fernanda’s music lasts an hour and a quarter, and that this production by Davide Livermore lasts barely thirty minutes longer, as they say in courtroom thrillers: ‘I have no further questions, your honour’. Yet as I suppose I must justify my journey from Venice to Madrid, I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that this version can basically be considered an operatic fast food Luisa Fernanda, which – like a bad hamburger – fills you quickly (before the first musical number is over) but soon leaves you feeling hungrier.

Livermore’s approach is to relocate the action of the play to the 1930s (the Second Republic), stripping Romero and Fernández-Shaw’s libretto of its 1868 revolutionary costume drama. The problem is that without the dialogue, peppered with so many references to the Spain of Isabel II, with the secondary characters completely hazy and with even Luisa almost totally AWOL (remember that her character is developed in the spoken scenes), it came over more like a corny soap opera without much sense. In short: as a bad opera.

Sabina  Puértolas (c. Elena del Real)Even more than in the out-of-style ballets (hello, José Luis Moreno!), the production flounders shamefully in the musical tableaux opening the first two acts. Material that offers great opportunities for any theatre director, seems here merely to get in the way. The verbena at San Antonio de la Florida begins without anybody on stage (!) until, of course, the dancers for the ‘Mazurca de las sombrillas’ and the full chorus appear – very far from the ‘six couples’ specified by the text. Rather, the first two acts take place in an architecturally unrecognisable reboot of Madrid’s Cine Doré, set on a revolving structure which – beyond the aesthetic delirium – ends up turning into a monster which eats away at the dramaturgy. Mariana Fracasso’s fairly eclectic costumes and Antonio Castro’s lighting also affect our indigestion, offering the inevitable side dishes of Coca Cola and chips on this cheap menu.

Juan Jesús Rodríguez and Carmen Artaza (c. Elena del Real)I don’t doubt Livermore’s success as a metteur at La Scala, Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan or Moscow’s Bolshoi, but here in Calle Jovellanos my experience has been almost as negative as with the skeletal, operatic and dreary versions of Pablo Viar’s El caserío, Natalia Menéndez’s La villana or Emilio Sagi’s Katiuska. This is a Luisa Fernanda for undemanding stomachs, for those people who come to the theatre just wanting to tickle their ears with pretty tunes. In this sense, I wonder what opinion the theatre team led by Daniel Bianco have, when they compare stuff of this calibre against stagings such as those by Mario Gas’s Los gavilanes or Juan Echanove’s Pan y toros? When a director believes in the product they are staging, when they take a real interest in it and nurture it, it shows. Unfortunately, that has not been the case here.

Ismael Jordi (c. Elena del Real)And now, allow me to do a backflip on one leg: it was worth the trip, just to hear Ismael Jordi singing Javier Moreno’s particella. What an artistic success! It is true that he is at a very interesting moment in his career, but it has been a long time since I have heard a role which for sure should be a gift for any tenor sung with such imagination and taste. By his side, Sabina Puértolas performed with ease as Duchess Caroline, although it was evident that she was not quite comfortable vocally. Juan Jesús Rodríguez’s Vidal received a standing ovation (though, as always, without dropping below forte). The young mezzo Carmen Artaza did what she could as Luisa Fernanda. As for the rest, the directing style allowed such fine performers as Emilio Sánchez, Didier Otaola and Antonio Torres to pass by without much fuss, while we had to put up with the graceless graces of María José Suárez as Doña Mariana. With character actresses as good as Trinidad Iglesias or Eva Diago to be had, why is the taxpayer’s patience abused in this way?

Finally, I can’t fail to mention that maestro Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez left us all open-mouthed as he tamed the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid with his baton, bringing out a delicate, balanced and at times passionate sound. If you want to do something, you can. Such is life.

© Miccone and, 2023

Reparto: Luisa Fernanda - Carmen Artaza/Amparo Navarro; Vidal Hernando - Juan Jesús Rodríguez/Rubén Amoretti; Javier Moreno - Ismael Jordi/Alejandro del Cerro; Duquesa Carolina - Sabina Puértolas/Rocío Ignacio; Mariana - María José Suárez; Rosita - Nuria García-Arrés; Aníbal - Didier Otaola; Bizco Porras - César Diéguez; El saboyano - Francisco José Pardo; Nogales - Antonio Torres; Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid; Coro del Teatro de la Zarzuela (Antonio Fauró, dir.); Davide Livermore (dir.); Nuria Castejón (choreo.); Giò Forma (des.); Antonio Castro (l.); Mariana Fracasso (cost.); Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez (c.)

Production by Teatro de la Zarzuela, 2021

Critical edition by Federico Moreno-Torroba Larregla (Ediciones Fundación Autor / Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 2003)

Luisa Fernanda (Teatro de la Zarzuela 2023) programme cover

en español
Federico Moreno Torroba (English)
Luisa Fernanda (English)
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