Goyescas from The In Series (review)

Hats in the air and “Olé!” for the In Series team that has delivered an inspired staging of an extremely challenging one-act opera, Goyescas. Written in 1915 by Enrique Granados, it that will confront you with its energetic vitality, its celebration of life and at the same time, set you back on your heels with its tragic ironies.

These too brief performances at the GALA Hispanic Theatre (this is their final weekend of the 5 performance run) commemorate the centennial world premiere at the New York Metropolitan Opera Company (1916).  It was the first opera totally in Spanish ever to be performed at the Met.

Now, Washington D.C. playwright Elizabeth Pringle and co-director/choreographer Jaime Coronado have revised the opera’s presentation with a frame story in English, based on two of La maja dolorosa/Three Sorrowful Maja Songs by Granados and on all of Manual de Falla’s Seven Spanish Folk Songs.

Alex Alberqueque and the company of Goyescas at In Series (Photo: Angelisa Gillyard)

Alex Alberqueque and the company of Goyescas at In Series (Photo: Angelisa Gillyard)

The title Goyescas is a deeply romantic, operatic word, that literally means “in the manner of Goya.” What In Series does with integration of art forms is fascinating. On stage, the set (by Jonathan D. Robertson) consists of seven unframed canvases, that serve as blank screens for projections of some of Francisco de Goya’s famous paintings. One is a portrait of a Maja, a woman draped in a black lace mantilla, possibly the Duchess of Alba, who stares boldly at us as if to say what Goya was known for: “There are no rules in painting.”

Goya wanted artists to stop imitating and conforming to neo-classic Euro-Italian art, specifically the Italian painters. Goya wanted artists to dig deeply into their own consciousness, into their native Spanish roots.  To paint in the manner of a Spaniard.

On March 24, 1916 on board the ship S.S. Sussex, the composer, Enrique Granados (Oscar Ceville), recognizable by his distinctive handlebar moustache, stands next to his adored wife, Ampara Granados (Cara González) filled with homesickness. They are on the ship’s bridge on their return to Spain. Since the spectacular debut of Goyescas at the MET, the couple have been lionized at the White House by President Woodrow Wilson.

Alicia Bernstein and the company of Goyescas at In Series (Photo: Angelisa Gillyard)

Alicia Bernstein and the company of Goyescas at In Series (Photo: Angelisa Gillyard)

The story opens with Granados’ memories of Spain, as delivered expressively with passion by Cara González, Granados’ wife, Amparo, in her opening song, La Maja dolorosa No. 3/The Sorrowful Maja#3. “In deep love, agony is a flower….”  In contrast, homesick Granados recalls life among friends, family and neighbors, by singing and dancing to Manuel de Falla’s and his songs, which are the focus of Act I. It’s a pattern throughout the opera. When melancholia threatens to overwhelm the revelers, they start folk dancing. They pound out their pain and yearning for home. This behavior is based on the Spanish belief that dancing eliminates sadness.

On the deck below, a homeward-bound, exuberant coterie, filled with flirtatious couples, exchanges gossip and celebrates the opera’s rave reviews by reprising popular songs written by Granados and Manual de Falla. Dancer Alisa Bernstein personifies Granados’ longing for home, in a gorgeous red satin skirted costume with black lace (costumes by Donna Breslin). Smiling joyously, Bernstein stamps the floor and accentuates her lively dancing with castanets. Bernstein takes command, her back arched elegantly, as she dances de Falla’s Will O’ the Wisp.

But it turns into a dazzling piano performance when musical director, Carlos César Rodríguez, a virtuoso pianist, cuts loose and takes command of the stage. A celebratory mood is projected with his flamboyant delivery of off-beat, syncopated rhythms. His hands literally fly off the keys. It is as if he is plucking guitar strings. His pizzicato passages are amazing. He recreates hand-clapping, foot pounding accompaniment of the flamenco guitar, additionally supported by the dancers with their clickety-click castanets and foot stamping, hard-floor hammering, thanks to Jaime Coronado’s choreography. The Spanish folk songs emerge with a flamboyance that will take your breath away.

It helps to put this production in historical context. This is on the eve of W.W I., when there was a resurgence of emotional ties to nationalism. Stravinsky and Schoenberg were reinventing harsh discordant atonality, a rebellion against romantic Italian melodic music, that sometimes sounded syrupy and sentimental.

Modern classical music exemplified a new movement. De Falla’s songs revive his allegiance to his Andalusian roots, folklore and the influence of the flamenco. And De Falla’s music is based on what was heard in the streets. The wail of pain from the soul, a rebellion against compositions dominated by Italian melodies. These minor key, strident atonality of native folk songs and irregular dance rhythms were infused into de Falla’s and Granado’s musical compositions to express disappointment in a love relationship. In the comforting lullaby “Nana,” Elizabeth Mondragon, cradles and rocks a bundled tablecloth, that becomes a cloth baby. As a general rule, when the songs express disappointment in love, the melody turns sad in a minor key. When the lover recovers and vows to move on, the melody once again recovers, ending on a solid tonic harmony.

Originally composed as stand-alone piano pieces to express the gypsy soul, referred to in the Andalusian Spanish term cante jondo or “deep song.” The songs refer to the deep hurt, the feeling of the betrayal life deals out in the game of life. The unexpected deaths of lovers. The desertions and betrayals. Here, the sad, soulfull songs blossom into flamenco dancing.

The company of Goyescas at In Series (Photo: Angelisa Gillyard)

The company of Goyescas at In Series (Photo: Angelisa Gillyard)

In Act II the scene shifts to projections of the countryside for a re-enactment of the opera Goyescas. It starts with the Pelele, a traditional Spanish game for children in which a straw man or manikin stuffed with hay is cradled in a blanket and tossed in the air. The effigy flops helplessly. The playful game represents the unpredictability of fate, or the uncontrollable changes in life. Or it can be seen as a form of ridicule of how helpless men are. In this production, the the acting ensemble recreate the game center stage.

Then in the next two scenes. the romantic conflict is established between flirtatious, fun-loving couples. Paquiro, the toreador, played with haughty defiance by debonair Alex Alburqueque. Paquiro and Pepa, enacted by Patricia Portillo, his sweetheart, arrive with much fanfare, followed by the entrance of Rosario, an upper class lady, soulfully played with great sincerity by Fairouz Foty, who is gifted with a rich mezzo-soprano, and Fernando, the military captain her fiancé and lover, given a robust gravitas by Peter J. Burroughs, a singer possessed with a resonant tenor voice. Together Foty and Burroughs deliver powerhouse performances.

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You will recognize the musical motifs, often performed in recital with cello and piano. The famous Intermezzo, a change to leisurely pace, is given an expressive, lovely interpretation as if extracted from a classical ballet by dancer Heidi Kershaw, who is the Maja with the red fan. In the Tableau III Rosario’s garden: “The Lady and the Nightingale,” Rosario has a duet in which she carries on a singing recitative with a nightingale. It’s an exquisitely beautiful scene in which you hear the bird-like trills and rippling arpeggios representing the nightingale, known for its powerful and beautiful song, universally has symbolized a tragic lament.

What starts as filled-with-fun flirtations are unmasked to reveal serious competitive rivalries between lovers. And lovers who unsuccessfully try to cross class boundaries. Rosario, a warm-hearted upper-class woman, innocently loves to flirt. She is totally in love with her fiancé, the Captain Fernando, the quick-tempered, easily aroused, jealous military officer who is passionate about defending Rosario’s honor. The moral is soon brought home. What often starts as fun-loving teasing can be misinterpreted and develop into competition with unintended consequences.

You have to tune your listening to a fine point to hear phrases from “Besame Mucho,” written in 1940, by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velásquez, who felt influenced to write the song inspired by The Maiden and the Nightingale. 

Throughout the frame story, music and dances from local regions are represented. Murcia, Asturias, Aragon and Andalusia, for example, make the story allegorical for all of Spain. The accompaniment reflects ascending and descending fourths, what is heard in guitar music. What you hear, the alternated accents and syncopated rhythms, you also hear most prominently in the hand-clapping, foot stomping from the folk dancers. Both De Falla and Granados as composers incorporated brilliantly folk music into their compositions. And that included the dark, atonal Canto Jondo, in 1922, when de Falla and Garcia Lorca explored ancient music, some with Arabic influence, and tried to revive a style and sound that gave Spanish music a distinctive universality.

The ensemble work among the players is solid and impressive. A cast of well-trained dancers, and singers, with strong, well-pitched voices, portray the majas and majos, the newly-rich social climbers, who dress lavishly, and who crave attention. What carries this opera is the edgy grit and rigorous determination of each individual performer. Brava and Bravo to all.

Another cry of Olé for choreographer Jaime Coronado, who directs his troupe of Spanish folk dancers to top off every scene with verve and excitement. The ultimate irony of Goyescas is that it represents life imitating art. If that whets your curiosity, great! You have to join the audience and read the program carefully to discover how life can be a surprising and changeable Pelele game.


Goyescas, an hour-long opera, in three scenes by Spanish composer Enrique Granados, with book by Fernando Periquet. Adapted with a frame story in English and directed by Elizabeth Pringle. Vo-directed by director/choreographer: Jaime Coronado. Music Director/Pianist is: Carlos César Rodríguez. Stage Manager: Cindy King. Lighting Designer: Stefan Johnson. Costume Designer: Donna Breslin. Set Designer: Jonathan Dahm Robertson.

Cast and Ensemble: Oscar Ceville as Enrique Granados. Cara González. Fairouz Foty as Rosario. Alex Alburqueque as Paquiro, a toreador. Patricia Portillo as Pepa, Paquiro’s sweetheart. Ensemple of majas and majos: Adriana González, Cara González, Elizabeth Mondragon, Chris Herman, David Wolff, Tom Mirenda, Garrett Matthews, Simon Charette. Dancing Majas: Alisa Bernstein, Sara Herrera, Heidi Kershaw, Finale II, Fandango cantaores: Adriana González, Cara González, David Wolff. Produced by In Series . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.

Rosalind Lacy About Rosalind Lacy

Rosalind Lacy MacLennan, who hails from Los Angeles, has enjoyed writing for DCTheatreScene since 2006. A 20-year journalism veteran, with newspapers such as the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, the Butler Eagle in Pennsylvania, the Suburban Newspapers of Northern New Jersey, Rosalind won a MD-DC press award for the Montgomery Journal in 1999. Since Rosalind’s heady days training and performing professionally in summer stock out of New York City, Rosalind has taught drama in high school, directed and acted in community theaters, and is the proud mother of three young adults. Still an avid theater nut, Rosalind is a former board member of www.Footlightsdc.org, and an aficionada of Spanish theater.



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