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Opera Carolina's first Spanish show

January 17, 2007

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    January 17, 2007
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    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

Opera Carolina's first Spanish show

Love. Infidelity. Heartbreak. Thirst for revenge. Where would opera be without them?

Opera Carolina brings them back Jan. 25, 27 and 28 in an incarnation that's a century old, yet new to Charlotte: the company's first opera in Spanish, Manuel de Falla's "La Vida Breve."

The title translates into English as "the short life." You guessed it: Two-timing results in a character's untimely death.

"Vida Breve" will share a double bill with another tale driven by unfaithfulness: Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci," which has given opera one of its iconic images -- the clown whose heartbreak wells up in melody. "Pagliacci" -- at about 75 minutes, too brief to stand alone -- was long paired with yet another story of philandering, Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana." "Cav and Pag," as the duo was known, was a box-office bonanza.

But Opera Carolina breaks up that marriage, giving Pagliacci a fresh partner that's not so well-known. The company hopes to offer veteran operagoers a new experience, and newcomers a reason to experiment.

Much as Opera Carolina has reached out to the African American community with "Porgy and Bess" and "Margaret Garner," the company is courting the area's burgeoning Hispanic population with "Vida Breve," which is set in Spain.

"It diversifies our repertory," says general director James Meena. "And it gives us the opportunity to connect with a growing part of our community."

Audiences know Falla mainly for his dance music, especially his lithe and exuberant "The Three-Cornered Hat." "Vida Breve," too, includes some lusty dances -- part of its climactic wedding celebration.

That wedding is crux of the story. The groom, whose family is well-to-to, is having an affair on the side with a young gypsy. The day before he's to marry a fiancee of his own social class, Paco is still telling humble Salud that he loves her. Salud suspects something is awry. When she eavesdrops on the wedding fiesta does the truth hit home.

The party has the opera's zestiest music. A singer entertains the crowd with a tribute to the betrothed, and its flamenco-style warblings are Spanish to the core. The orchestra's rhythms and colors conjure up the clatter of dancers' heels and the flash of skirts. Opera Carolina is enlisting a flamenco singer and the Carolinas Latin Dance Company to spice up the festivities.

Soulfulness and atmosphere are the music's other main ingredients. An offstage chorus laments the hard life of working people. Salud's forebodings about Paco pour out in two heavy-hearted but intense solos. The orchestra's murmurs and swirls evoke the fragrances of a summer night.

"It's a very descriptive opera," said tenor Israel Lozano, who will play Paco.

Lozano, a native of Spain, is one of three Hispanic singers in leading roles. Soprano Olivia Gorra and baritone Luis Ledesma, both from Mexico, are the cast's other links to the opera's heritage.

Ledesma -- who will play Salud's uncle, the angry discoverer of Paco's duplicity -- said singing in their native language helps them understand and project what they're singing about.

"The word for blood is so strong in my language," Ledesma said. He demonstrated by saying it: sangre. It sounded earthy and rich. The rolled r sliced like the serrations on a knife. Someone who didn't know what the word meant might still have sensed its life-and-death import.

Sharing the characters' Hispanic background makes them more tangible, Lozano commented. When Falla wrote "Vida Breve" in the early 1900s, the class barrier between the fictional Paco and Salud was going strong in real-life Spain.

So Lozano thinks Paco isn't necessarily as bad as he may seem.

"At the bottom of his heart, he is in love with Salud," Lozano said. "But socially, he cannot recognize that love, because he would lose all the status. ... And he's being a little selfish."

La Vida Breve and Pagliacci
Opera Carolina makes a double bill of the operas by Manuel de Falla and Ruggero Leoncavallo.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, 8 p.m. Jan. 27, 2 p.m. Jan. 28.
WHERE: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.
TICKETS: $14-$90.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.

STEVEN BROWN
sbrown@charlotteobserver.com