BWW Review: In Series Stages Rare GOYESCAS
Leave it to the venerable In Series to mark the 100th anniversary of Enrique Granados' rarely heard and even more rarely seen opera "Goyescas."
And where else to witness this high point in Spanish culture than at the GALA Hispanic Theatre, where the ambitious project is being staged (There's even a family version of the work, "Goyesquitas," running concurrently with the grown up one).
The story of the Granados' rather short work is inspired in part by early paintings by Francisco de Goya, so the production by Elizabeth Pringle begins with a series of songs and dances from another Spanish composer of the same era, Manuel De Falla, with the specific Goya paintings behind the spirited cast.
"Goyescas" concerns the unfortunate mingling between a royal couple and the working class at a dance that later ends in a duel. But the background story to the opera is almost more interesting.
Granados had completed it and was set to premiere it in Paris, but World War I intervened and the production was canceled. He was instead invited to premiere it in at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which he did in 1916 - the first Spanish language opera ever presented at the Met. It was so successful, President Woodrow Wilson invited him to perform a recital at the White House. Granados and his wife delayed their departure home accordingly, and were booked on the ill-fated Sussex - which was torpedoed by the Germans, another casualty of war. He died trying to rescue his wife.
This cruelly tragic turn is artfully captured in Pringle's adaptation, in which Oscar Ceville portrays the composer aboard the liner with his wife (Cara Gonzalez). His musings on the deck also figure in his reverie thinking of the Madrid cafe scenes that inspire de Falla's "Seven Spanish Folk Songs" as well as three songs from Granados' "Sorrowful Maja" in act one.
And his reflection of his American success fuel his musings of the main course in act two.
"Goyescas" is indeed a grand work, especially the terrific ensemble singing that begin the work. The individual voices are very strong as well, from the beautiful soprano of Fairouz E. Foty as Rosario to the underlying strength of Patricia Portillo as Pepa and Peruvian baritone Alex Alburqueque as Paquiro, whose bold flirtations are the start of the conflict. Tenor Peter J. Burroughs, an In Series mainstay, is effective as the prideful Fernando as well.
But just as vocal highlights abound in the large cast, so does the dancing stand out from Heidi Kershaw, in ballet, and Sara Herrera and ALisa Bernstein in more traditional dances, castanets snapping. Jaime Coronado, who co-directed the work with Pringle, also choreographed.
The yeoman's work on stage may be music director Carlos Cesar Rodriguez's work in approximating the full score through only piano. Because Granados' work began as a piano suite, he at least has a basis to approximate what would have been a full orchestration at the Met a century ago.
Costume designer Donna Breslin had her work cut out for her in approximating the fancy dress first depicted in the Goya paintings and succeeds admirably.
Running time: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission.
Photo credit: Heidi Kershaw in "Goyescas." Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.
The In Series production of "Goyescas" by Enrique Granados continues through Dec. 18 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW, Washington D.C. 202-204-7763 or online.