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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB Opera Theatre Presents ‘Luisa Fernanda’

This weekend, the UCSB Opera Theatre offers a delectable treat — a fully staged production of Federico Moreno Tórroba's Luisa Fernanda (1932) — considered by some to be "the last great romantic zarzuela," with a libretto by Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernández Shaw.

John Ballerino
UCSB Opera Theatre's production of Luisa Fernanda will feature the musical direction and piano playing of faculty member Dr. John Ballerino. (UCSB photo)

Sung by the cream of the students in the Music Department's voice program, the lavish entertainment benefits from the stage direction of Paul Sahuc, the musical direction-plus-piano playing of Dr. John Ballerino and the choreography of Christopher Pilafian — all UCSB faculty members.

The zarzuela, in its last phase, aspired to be the Spanish National Opera, a form of opera that reflected — and romanticized — the Spanish national character. Born in the seventeenth century at the court of King Philip IV, the zarzuela was revived in the mid-19th century as an antidote to domination by the operas of France and Italy, and as a vehicle for nationalist sentiments.

Musically, they succeeded brilliantly, setting the style for the development of harmonic accents and native rhythms that almost anyone of musical experience would nod and pronounce "Spanish." And ultimately, the nationalist movement produced composers of genius: Falla, Granados, Albeniz and Rodrigo.

Christopher Webber of Zarzuela.net says of Luisa Fernanda, which premiered in Madrid's Teatro Calderón on March 26, 1932, that "it owes something to the earlier masters of zarzuela grande and género chico, more to the example of Vives' recent Doña Francisquita, but its range and scale of emotion surpasses any of Tórroba's models.

"Musically, Luisa Fernanda embodies its composer's ideals of 'El casticismo' — an attempt to foster the tradition of pure, popular nationalism, of which Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez was to be the most famous example. Tórroba's music certainly offers colourful Spanish charm, as well as fair helpings of graceful Viennese musical comedy and Italian operatic verismo. His musical personality may be elusive, but Tórroba's melodies are consistently memorable and his theatrical instinct never falters."

Tórroba (1891-1982) may be better-known outside of Spain as a composer for the guitar, whose compositions were played by — and often dedicated to — Andrés Segovia.

Luisa Fernanda plays at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall (Music Building). Tickets are $20 for general admission, $10 for students, and are available at the door or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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