Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s opera “La Vida Breve” depicts the timeless themes of unrequited love and class inequality, and yet the hour-long work is rarely performed today in its entirety. On Saturday evening, the In Series presented the opera as its season opener at the GALA Hispanic Theatre in a production that was emotionally charged, earnest and thoughtfully assembled.
Composed in 1904 with a libretto by Carlos Fernandez Shaw, de Falla’s second opera centers on a gypsy named Salud, who is strung along and jilted by lover Paco, a wealthy man secretly betrothed to another woman of his class. In a vengeful rage, Salud crashes Paco’s wedding festivities with tragic consequences.
With her piercing, muscular soprano, Shaina Martinez, a University of Maryland student, portrayed the spurned Salud with a fresh naivete. Her solid singing was matched note for note by tenor Peter Burroughs, whose Paco was passionately smarmy. As Salud’s grandmother, mezzo-soprano Patricia Portillo captured the opera’s full expression and raw emotional complexity in her voice, while baritone Jose Sacin’s seething anger as Salud’s uncle, Sarvaor, was palpable throughout.
The rest of the cast, including four flamenco dancers spinning and stomping with delightful fervor, pulled the audience into the gritty underworld of early-20th-century well-to-do Granada, Spain. From his perch at the piano, music director Carlos Cesar Rodriguez kept ensemble and score moving along at a dedicated, if sometimes too swift, clip.
Director and choreographer Jaime Coronado’s decision to stage the two-act opera as a single act without intermission worked well, particularly with the collection of eight sung zarzuelas — each song spotlighting cast members in solos and duets — serving as its opening act.
“La Vida Breve” repeats Oct. 26 and Nov. 1.
Jean is a freelance writer.