Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve is often credited with being the first true Spanish opera. It’s certainly one of very few works in that language one might encounter in an opera house. It’s hard to see why it’s not performed more often. It’s a dramatic story about the tragic love affair of a gtpsy girl and a wealthy young man and the music is a blend of verismo and flamenco. The orchestration is quite exciting and the Spanish influenced vocal lines are very easy on the ear. It really ought to have a rather wide appeal.
The Valencia production, recorded in 2012, makes a strong case for the work. Giancarlo del Monaco’s production is striking and spare. The stage is boxed in metallic red with lighting to match constantly recalling the forge scene with which the piece opens. Virtually the whole weight of the drama falls on the actors though there is a wonderful coup de théatre in Act 2 when a body double of Salud, the gypsy girl, is wheeled on oin a crucixion pose. It turns out to be the flamenco singer who then then becomes the celebrant in the marriage of Salud’s unfaithful lover to his rich bride. There’s also some excellent flamenco choreography.
The star of the show is Christina Gallardo-Domâs as Salud. She gives a tortured, intense performance of great power. She’s well backed up by Maria-Luisa Corbacho as her grandmother and Felipe Bou as her uncle. Paco, her lover and betrayer, is sung by Jorge de León. The flamenco singer is the very fine Esperanza Fernández. Lorin Maazel conducts with the Valencia house orchestra and chorus. It’s an exciting and idiomatic reading.
Video direction is unusual. Tiziano Mancini isn’t afraid to give us a full view of the large, often very empty, stage but he is rather hyper-kinetic with very frequent cuts and heavy use of the cinematographer’s bag of tricks. I would have preferred a slightly calmer approach. Sound quality (DTS 5.1) is very adequate but the picture quality, on DVD, only just so. This was recorded in HD and is also available on Blu-ray which maybe affords a picture quality that better supports the director. Subtitle options are English, Spanish, German and French. The documentation includes a useful essay on the work’s early history but there are no extras on the disk.