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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Opera Review: Short, With a Suite

La Vida Breve at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rafael Frühbeck di Burgos examines his baton.
Photo © Columbia Artists Management, Inc.
Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic featured the orchestra's first complete performance of Manuel de Falla's two-act opera, La Vida Breve. The opera was an unqualified knockout. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the Spanish conductor with the German name (he added the de Burgos) opened the concert with a pleasurable performance of his own orchestral transcriptions of Isaac Albeniz' Suite española.

La vida breve is a verismo tragedy, similar to Cavalleria Rusticana--but in Spanish. The strong young cast, featured singers and a chorus that were exclusively from Spain. Maria Rodriguez gave a passionate performance as Salud, the young gypsy girl who jilted by her boyfriend Paco.

As Paco, tenor Vicente Ombuena displayed a creamy tone with a hint of bite at the appropriate moments in the score. The big Act II duet featured these two young, strong voices making a pleasing blend before the Wagnerian sweep of the orchestra.

La Vida Breve combines lyric string passages (including a memorable cello solo), intricate woodwind writing, thunderous brass passages and a complex percussion score requiring eight dexterous players. The clang of anvils opens the opera, echoing down the busy streets in a way that the Gypsies of Il Trovatore could only dream of. Choral and orchestral writing help to create an authentic-sounding aural evocation of the colorful streets of Granada.

Everything that followed: the distant voice of a young laborer in the streets, the fiery flamenco dancer (Nuria Pomares), the character turn for a wedding singer and his accompanying guitarist contributes to Falla's Spanish sound-world. Falla's opera is a refreshing change from all the Italian and French operas that use Spain as their backdrop, but only make a marginal effort to capture the rich life and unique musical textures of this country.

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