Dr Svet Atanasov
, April 2009
Madrid, 1868. The regime of Queen Isabella II is threatened by the Republican movement. At a square in the old city of Madrid, Mariana (Raquel Pierotti), an innkeeper, and three of her lodges, Rosita (Sabina Puertolas), Don Luis Nogales (Federico Gallar) and Anibal (Javier Ferrer), all passionate republicans, are conversing. They are joined by the Duchess (Mariola Cantarero), a loyal monarchist.
The military officer Javier (Jose Bros) arrives to see his fiancée Luisa (Nancy Herrera), who has already left for mass. Anibal approaches Javier and attempts to talk him into joining the republicans.
Luisa returns and Mariana immediately asks her to forget about Javier and instead meet Vidal Fernando (Placido Domingo), a wealthy landowner, who has come to Madrid to look for a wife. Vidal appears and begins flirting with Luisa. She flirts back, but tells him that her heart belongs to Javier.
After he learns that Javier is a revolutionary, Vidal quickly declares his commitment to the monarchist cause. He also vows to win Luisa’s heart. In the meantime, the Duchess seduces Javier in an attempt to hurt his credibility in front of his republican comrades. Vidal immediately proposes to Luisa.
At the festival of San Antonio. Mariana meets Luisa, who tells her that she has arrived to meet Vidal. The Duchess appears and attempts to bribe Vidal into joining the monarchist movement. He rejects her at once.
Javier arrives and is immediately irritated by the sight of Luisa and Vidal talking. Luisa makes it clear that she prefers Vidal over Javier. Later on, Javier and other republicans clash with Vidal and the monarchists.
The Revolution is over. The monarchy has fallen and most of its supporters have fled to Portugal. Javier is reported missing in battle. At Vidal’s estate, Mariana, Luisa and her father have arrived to help with the wedding preparations.
Anibal appears accompanied by Javier. He kneels in front of Luisa and asks for her forgiveness. Luisa admits that she still loves him but asks Javier to leave.
Vidal, who has been observing from afar, realizes that Luisa’s heart belongs to someone else and that she would never love him as much as she loves Javier. He reveals himself and immediately releases Luisa from her vow to marry him. Javier and Luisa depart Vidal’s estate.
Composed by Moreno Torroba, on a libretto by Federico Romero and Giulermo Fernandez Shaw, Luisa Fernanda is a Spanish zarzuela—a popular genre blending spoken dialog with dramatic operatic singing that flourished during the 17th century—that was first staged at Teatro Calderon in Madrid on March 26, 1932. Nowadays, together with La chulapona, Luisa Fernanda is one of Torroba’s most regularly performed works.
The opera is divided into three acts. The major themes in it are love, friendship and patriotism. Unlike traditional castizo zarzuelas, however—where the main characters are typically ordinary Spaniards—in Luisa Fernanda the protagonists are well-mannered and cultured.
This specific production of Luisa Fernanda was recorded live at the Teatro Real de Madrid on July 14th and 16th, 2006 (in co-production with Washington Opera and Los Angeles Opera). It was made by Emilio Sagi and it is based on an earlier staging for a concert performance of Luisa Fernanda at La Scala, Milan.
The lead singers are terrific. Legendary Spanish tenor Placido Domingo plays the ambitious landowner Vidal to perfection. On the other hand, his singing is pure and technically impeccable. Nancy Herrera’s impersonation of the beautiful Luisa Fernanda is just as memorable; her voice is relaxed, utterly secure and full of dynamic variety.
Emilio Sagi’s preference for a modern, minimalist look may seem a bit unusual at first, but as he admits in an interview supplied on this Blu-ray disc, his vision for Luisa Fernanda was driven by his desire to focus on the main characters and their dilemmas rather than the period environment traditional zarzuelas tend to promote. Finally, Maestro Cobos leads the Orchestra of the Teatro Real with notable precision and playfulness allowing the musicians to respond to the energetic singing and lead the audience along with them.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080i “live” transfer, Moreno Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Opus Arte.
This is a solid addition to Opus Arte’s fantastic catalog of opera releases. Contrast is superb, clarity and detail simply phenomenal (some of the close-ups are amongst the best I have seen on Blu-ray) and the color-scheme very convincing. Furthermore, motion-judder is kept to an absolute minimum. Also, as expected, multiple HD cameras have been used to capture the singers and the orchestra (during the introductions we are given the opportunity to see Jesus Lopez Cobos conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real). As far as the actual production is concerned, I must point out a small issue that I detected with the stage lighting. For example, during ACT II there are a few scenes where it is fairly difficult to see the faces of the singers. This being said, this isn’t something that would affect your viewing experience in a dramatic fashion, but I do believe that the producers of Luisa Fernanda could have avoided the “shadow-effect” quite easily. Still, I have absolutely no problem recommending this Blu-ray release to opera lovers unfamiliar with Moreno Torroba’s work. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc which you could play on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location)
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Spanish LPCM 5.1 and Spanish LPCM 2.0. I opted for the Spanish LPCM 5.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the Spanish LPCM 2.0 for the purpose of this review.
The Spanish LPCM 5.1 track is solid. There is plenty of depth, excellent separation between the orchestra and the singers, and absolutely no issues that I could detect with the mixing (dropouts, cracks, hissings). Furthermore, even though this is a live recording, the sound is notably crisp and full-bodied. On the other hand, the spoken dialog is crystal clear and very easy to follow.
The Spanish LPCM 2.0 track most definitely does not match the fluidity of the Spanish LPCM 5.1 track. The impressive dynamic amplitude the Spanish LPCM 5.1 track conveys is practically non-existent on the Spanish LPCM 2.0 track—the orchestra sounds dull, the singing isn’t as nuanced, and the depth I mentioned earlier is nowhere to be heard. The live hall-effect if also notably distracting. Therefore, I recommend that you opt for the Spanish LPCM 5.1 and avoid seeing Luisa Fernanda with the Spanish LPCM 2.0 track. (Note: Optional English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish subtitles are provided for the main feature).
This Blu-ray disc arrives with a stylish booklet containing an informative note from Stage Director Emilio Sagi addressing the production history of Moreno Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda. In addition to a short text explaining how the zarzuela evolved into an opera genre, there is also a brief synopsis for the opera. (Note: Each of the above texts is available in English, French, German, and Spanish).
On the actual disc, you will find a narrated synopsis for the opera, a cast gallery as well as interviews with Stage Director Emilio Sagi, conductor Jesus Lopes Cobos and Placido Domingo where the three discuss the production and history of the opera. (Note: Optional English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian subtitles are provided).
Luisa Fernanda is a fantastic addition to Opus Arte’s already very impressive catalog of classical releases. Aside from the small lighting issue, which I addressed in my technical analysis, this is just about a perfect disc. I am definitely looking forward to more Spanish music being released on Blu-ray. I hope Manuel de Falla isn’t too far behind. Very Highly Recommended.