The planned Parisian premiere of Enrique Granados’ one-act opera “Goyescas” was canceled because of World War I, opening instead at The Met in 1916. It was so positively received that the composer was invited to the White House, delaying his return voyage to Spain. It was, however, on his delayed voyage that Granados found himself on board a ship torpedoed by a German U-boat. Enrique was safely in a lifeboat when he noticed his wife was in the water. He jumped into the icy waters to reach her and they both drowned. It is a tragic story, more moving than the comparatively frivolous dual at the centre of the opera Goyescas and an interesting inclusion in the In Series’ latest production, even if it puts the story of the opera into sharp relief. This biographical story is presented as a framing device for a performance of Goyescas, with Granados recalling, in what would become his final hours on Earth, the performance of his opera at The Met.
…truly remarkable music, exquisitely rich, delicate and evocative..
The first half of the In Series’ production begins onboard the SS Sussex the night before it is attacked. Granados remembers Madrid, and in a revue-style performance, various characters sing songs by Granados and his compatriot, the composer Manuel de Falla, spurred on by imagined relationships between various characters. Writer Elizabeth Pringle provides the interesting framing device and also some English dialogue, more functional than especially dramatic, to connect the songs and characters.
Granados’ wife Amparo, sung here by Cara González, opens the show with a captivating and emotionally charged rendition of “La Maja Dolorosa No.3” [The Sorrowful Maja]. The other truly outstanding performance in the first act is Elizabeth Mondragon (‘Maria’, a local cafe owner) singing Manuel de Falla’s hauntingly beautiful “Nana” [Lullaby]. The ornate vocal line quivers, masterfully controlled by Mondragon, above a gentle, constantly descending, constantly shifting piano figure. De Falla’s “Asturiana” is also haunting, sung with a pure and unpretentious tone by tenor David Wolff, a soldier no doubt ravaged by war who “draws near” a pine tree in search “of consolation.” This is truly remarkable music, exquisitely rich, delicate and evocative, too rarely heard.
In the second half, we watch Granados’ memory of the recent performance of Goyescas, taking place in his mind. Granados even wanders through the performance occasionally. The opera was written around musical themes from a popular eponymous piano suite by Granados inspired by the paintings of Goya, and the opera is structured around three “tableaux”. The plot revolves around a perceived slight to Fernando, an officer, and results in a duel between Fernando and Paquiro (a toreador). The action is driven entirely by wounded male pride and the resulting violence, only really rendered sympathetic through Fernando’s lover, Rosario, in her final aria as Fernando lies dying in her arms. Fairouz Foty is powerful and moving in the role of Rosario, though the sheer volume she manages at the climax became too loud for a small space without full orchestral accompaniment. The entire performance is accompanied with the piano with tremendous style and verve by Carlos César Rodriguez.
The versatile set design by Johathon D. Robertson incorporates a number of projected images, which change as needed throughout, while Donna Breslin’s costumes bring to life the vibrant colours which so captivated and inspired Granados. The opera also includes a large part four chorus, and, particularly in the first tableau this, admittedly detailed, part lacked the rhythmic precision and clarity it needs.
Also presented by the In series during the run of Goyescas is “Goyesquitas”, a small devised piece written and directed by Elizabeth Pringle in the mood and spirit of Goyesca, but for a younger audience. Oscar Ceville plays Granados, as he does in Goyescas, and introduces children to the music of Granados, de Falla, and Spain more generally, as well as teaching a few Spanish words, and how to play some Spanish instruments. It’s a wonderful addition to the program, and contribution to the community highly recommended for children not yet old enough for Goyescas.
De Falla and Granados were actively engaged in forging national identity through their music, and dance was an important part of this identity too. Heidi Kershaw’s solo dance of the opera’s famous intermezzo was focussed and elegant, while director and choreographer Jaime Coronado handles the movement of a large cast in limited space extremely well.
At this historical distance, the music of Goyescas seems more enduring than the story Granados chose to set, however, the decision to provide context and an emotional dimension that would otherwise be difficult to elicit from the opera alone, makes for a much more interesting and enjoyable operatic experience. It is an evening with some outstanding performances of some exceptional music. Goyesquitas gives the opportunity for a younger generation to experience this music too, perhaps for the first time, and hopefully ensures the music can endure even further.
“Goyescas” Running Time: 2 hours with intermission.
“Goyesquitas” Running Time: 40 minutes, no intermission.
“Goyescas” and “Goyesquitas” play until December 18 at Gala Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights. More information can be found online here.