La Vida Breve

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Composer: Manuel De Falla

Libretto: Carlos Fernández Shaw

First Produced: Casino Municipal, Nice, 1913

Present Company: Palau de les Arts Reine Sofia

Director & Set Designer: Guancarlo del Monaco

Costumes: Jesús Ruiz

Lighting: Wolfgang von Zoubeck

Video Director: Tiziano Mancini

Choreographer: Goyo Montero

Orchestra et Cor de la Comunitat Valenciana

Conductor: Lorin Maazel



Salud: Cristina Gallardo-Domas

Paco: Jorge de León

La abuela: María Luisa Corbacho

El tio Sarvaor: Felipe Bou

Carmela: Sandra Ferrández

Flamenco Singer: Esperanza Fernández

Flamenco Guitar: Juan Carlos Gómez Pastor



Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-25

Opera: 41.44 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (20-27 Mbps)

Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1

Spanish LPCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles: English, French, German & Spanish

Region: All

Opera runtime: 82 minutes

C Major Entertainment 2012



Conception & Staging: C

Costumes: A

Casting: A

Singing: A

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A

Video Direction: C

Image: B

Audio: A-

Extras Features: 0

Recommendation: B


If we can generalize from their art and, more specifically, from Manuel de Falla & Carlos Fernández Shaw’s La Vida Breve the Spanish are a very passionate people - as we would say out here in California, very in touch with their feelings.  They are, however, slaves to their passions.  “Love hard, die harder” could have been this opera’s subtitle.


From a country not especially noted for its opera composers La Vida Breve is one of Spain’s national treasures (even though its first performance was in France nine years after it was written and won first prize in his home country.)  The composer is Manuel de Falla whose concert music we know from his very popular Three Cornered Hat, El Amor Brujo and La Vida Breve, all of which first saw life as stage works, but only one, La Vida Breve, is more opera than ballet.  De Falla called it a “lyric drama.”  He also wrote a work for piano and orchestra, Nights in the Gardens of Spain, still very much in the concert repertoire.



La Vida Breve is remarkably short: less than ninety minutes, and for about half that time, there is no singing or spoken dialogue at all.  The rest is dance in one form or another.  There is one featured character, the Gypsy girl Salud, sung and acted by the remarkable Chilean soprano, Cristina Gallardo-Domas.  More than any other feature of this production, it is she who rivets our attention and upon whose shoulders rests its success or failure.  Fortunately for all concerned, Gallardo-Domas is a knockout.


Synopsis & Production

The story is simple one, and all too familiar to all too many women over the centuries: a young Gypsy woman lives only for the infrequent return of her lover, the aristocratic Paco (a reusable Jorge de León).  This day he returns to make love and assurances, but in the background we learn from Salud’s uncle (Felipe Bou) that Paco is to marry a noblewoman of Paco’s own class.  Salud’s grandmother, La abuela (María Luisa Corbacho), dissuades the uncle from killing Paco then and there.  The second act tells of Paco’s wedding, and of Salud and her uncle who crash the reception to accuse Paco of having had an affair with her during his engagement.  Only the Spanish know how to properly resolve such a state of dishonor and betrayal.



Produced in the same magnificent theater in Valencia that gave us the amazing, award-winning RING cycle from 2007-09 (the Palau de les Arts Reine Sofia) Director & Set Designer Guancarlo del Monaco and Lighting Designer Wolfgang von Zoubeck drench the entire stage in deep red.  A high, textured wall separates and isolates our protagonista in a small corner of the stage against a heap of discarded chairs.  It’s a hint she fails to heed or understand.  But we sense the tragedy at once.  A chorus moans away in the background underscoring the fact of her low class and its inevitable outcome.  She seems not to notice.  Her grandmother dressed in a huge black shawl-like dress tries to console Salud but also to redirect her feelings.  Not a chance.



Salud’s anxious waiting is relieved only by the arrival of her lover who enters through a crack in the wall through which various characters come and go, but not Salud, who remains trapped in her world of red.  Paco lies to her, but not to us.  We see that he is too weak to tell her the truth.  He leaves, only to return as part of his own wedding reception.  And it is here that the second act, which is for the most part a stylized flamenco ballet, finally gives us a small break in the color by desaturating the intensity of the red filtration that has hung over the stage for the past forty minutes.  In place of deep red, del Monaco places a large tri-spoke fan over the proceedings that lowers as the drama plays itself out.  I found it a pretty good idea, poorly executed since it turns so fast that it becomes distracting.




What seemed like a great idea on paper and what may have been seductive to the audience appears to be too much for Tiziano Mancini, our video director (the very same as for C Major’s RING cycle.)  Manzini and I have very different ideas about how to solve the challenge of a stage with such inescapably flat light and only patches of texture and highlights that appear more like unintended solarization.  His idea is to zoom into or cut to those patches as frequently as he can, apparently to reduce the monotony of the color. But if you do this, and Mancini wastes no time in getting to close-ups of Salud’s agony, you lose the sense of isolation that the stage and lighting design drowns her in.  Not only does Mancini move his camera from one detail of the stage to another, he does so more or less arbitrarily.  Now and then there is some textual correspondence, but for the most part, he moves about from Salud, to the grandmother, to a wide shot, to some piece of the wall, shooting from this angle and that, including many shots from a camera mounted on the floor (since that where Salud spends much of her time) – it’s all very seamless, smartly composed and technically fluid, but his choices lack meaning – and they feel antithetical to the stage and light design.  I should emphasize that there is no color, there is only red, whose presence, among other things, seems to affect sharpness, as if the video sensor itself is overwhelmed by it.


The staging of the second act presents problems of it own that, frankly, I can’t see how the camera can get around.  First, most of the action takes place within the circle of chairs wherein sits the wedding party, and outside of which Salud and her grandmother are engaged in their respective bits of business.  I don’t mind that several people, Paco and his bride among them, sit with their backs to us, but all of the dance numbers are staged entirely within that circle so that we can never see them whole (and neither can the first rows of seats in the orchestra.)  Mancini tries every trick and angle at his disposal to permit us to see the action within the circle better with the end result that we feel as locked out as Salud, about which I have exactly the opposite feeling as in the first act: Why go to all the trouble of staging several dances if we can’t see them?  Of course I overstate the case: we can see them - through the gaps in the chairs and in those off to the side overhead shots that just make us feel all the more unwanted.  Here drama trumps visual interest and makes for a frustrating video experience.




Matters audio go much smoother, there being only one change of any significance that the director needs to attend to: the onstage guitar.  A small on-instrument microphone solves the problem.  I might even go so far as to say the guitar has the most natural sound of all the instruments and voices.  The singer that accompanies him sounds a little odd to my ear, as if the balance engineer had to go further than necessary to assure we could hear both.  In other respects, the audio is fine, if unexceptional.  The orchestra, brilliantly led by veteran maestro Lorin Maazel, is exciting and subtle where desired and the voices and chorus come off, if not entirely natural, acceptable and appropriate to the drama.  I suggest you try both the surround and stereo mixes, except that for reasons passing understanding the whacking bass drum all but disappears in stereo.


Extra Features

None at all on the disc, only a synopsis and brief essay in the accompanying booklet that discusses the opera in historical terms and the staging for this production.  I have to say it is becoming a habit with C Major lately not to include bonus features on the disc.


Manuel de Falla’s passionate music and Cristina Gallardo-Domas’ anguished, note-perfect portrayal of a wronged woman are the main attractions here.  The orchestra is vividly captured but the video has problems at almost every conceivable level.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

June 26, 2012

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