by Dorianne Emmerton
It’s always exciting to see a show that’s a Canadian premiere. A Canadian premiere means it’s already successful in other countries, so is probably very good, and now we get to see it, ideally with Canadian artists providing the interpretation.
I also find it exciting to see a form of art I haven’t experienced before. So when I was looking at theatre listings for what to see next, Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of Luisa Fernanda jumped out at me as it’s both a Canadian premiere and a zarzuela. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry – I didn’t either.
The Wikipedia definition is “a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance.” I didn’t look at Wikipedia before I went. I knew it was Spanish and that there’d be singing.
I actually don’t know a lot about opera – I went to theatre school so it came up sometimes, but it was a “straight” theatre program so all I really remember is a class on Chinese Opera and a trip to see an opera version of Oedipus Rex.
But I have the good fortune to be dating someone who is trained in classical music vocal performance (which includes opera) so I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years. I took her with me to see Luisa Fernanda.
The Jane Mallet Theatre is great because the audience is really raked so you can always see the stage, and, at least for someone of my 5’4” stature, the seats are roomy and comfortable. However, we were on the innermost seats in an outside section and often the last letter of the surtitle was cut off. Being only one letter it was no impediment to reading, but anyone farther out would have had a more difficult time.
Not that everyone reads the surtitles – I know a number of people who say they just listen to the musicality of the show and don’t care about the actual words of the text. I can’t do that; I love words. So I enjoyed that there were parts of the show that were spoken instead of sung, and that these speaking parts were in English. My partner… not so much. She prefers a show that is all just singing.
One reason for preferring singing to speaking is that there is a tendency for operatic performers to have great expressive skill in song but not necessarily be the greatest spoken-word actors. The first couple of spoken scenes in Luisa Fernanda were a bit stilted – but it was also opening night. I felt they relaxed into the roles very well and there was no doubt that the singing from each and every member of the cast was superb. The costuming was brilliant and the staging excellent.
As for the story… well. As is very common with these old/classic/whatever pieces, the idea of love is idealized to the point of being unrecognizable from anything you or I would ever have experienced. I was prepared for that but the ending was abrupt in a way that really reinforced the idea that if these were real people there was no way a happily-ever-after could actually ensue.
What was seriously compelling about the story was the politics: it is set in 1868 when there is a revolutionary movement afoot to dethrone Queen Isabel II. This is historical fact and it’s ever-present in Luisa Fernanda, where her two would-be lovers take opposing sides in the rebellion.
So if you’re interested in Spanish history and Spanish classical music, or if you just love beautiful singing and don’t mind if it’s punctuated with some spoken dialogue, you will definitely enjoy this show.
– Shows are March 9, 11, 12 at 8 pm and March 13 at 2 pm, Tickets are $58.00 to $84.00.
– Tickets are available online at https://boxoffice.stlc.com/public/ or through the box office at 416.366.7723.