Dallas — The Orchestra of New Spain’s Saturday night performance of Love Conquers Impossible Love, a Spanish baroque zarzuela composed by Sebastián Durón in 1710, was a welcome bit of fantasy, combining baroque theater traditions with modern trends. A collaborative effort that spanned from Spain to Mexico to Dallas, this production represented the first stage performance of the work in the Americas.
The opera tells of the lovely Danae, from the Greek tradition, and her many suitors. After seeing her picture, she is pined after by Lisidante, who is an enemy of her father Acrisio. Likewise, her father’s captain Polidectes falls under her spell. When Danae’s beauty proves too compelling even for Jupiter, the king of the gods, his wife Juno declares that Danae has offended the Heavens and banishes her to a tower. Her only hope for escape is if someone can cause the impossible to happen: to make the clouds rain gold. In a clumsily coordinated effort between man and deity, Danae’s many admirers manage to achieve the impossible, and Danae ascends to the Heavens as a new goddess.
With a dramatic progression that alternates between spoken dialogue and sung arias and ensemble numbers, the zarzuela is much like the German songspiel. In this setting, the humor and charm of contrived Baroque-era plots is not lost, but rather, elevated to enrich the genre. In this production, the dialogue was delivered in English, with translations provided by Dr. Joseph R. Jones. As several of the principals were strictly speaking roles, this was an effective choice for this group, giving the production momentum and the comedy appropriate timing. Musical portions were sung in the original Spanish with supertitles projected above the stage.
Brandon Loera was a compelling Lisidante, and Nicole Berastequi gave Danae an endearing combination of aristocratic clout and girlish aloofness. Steven Young was a haughty Acrisio.
Musically, however, this production fell just shy of appropriately filling the space of the Moody Performance Hall. The 15-piece orchestra, playing from the pit on period instruments under musical direction by ONS artistic director Grover Wilkins performed expertly, but the sound was muted and somewhat dull from below the stage. Vocally, the singing principals offered, for the most part, fine readings, but the full weight and color of these voices was lost in the hall. The seven-part chorus, which predominantly sang from far upstage, was a bit unbalanced in tone and texture, though their Spanish diction was rather convincing.
Carla Lopez Speziale’s mezzo-soprano as Jupiter was less commanding than one might expect for the character, however she did well to maintain a convincing level of drama through her acting. Opposite her were sopranos Pilar Tejero and Julianna Emanski as Juno and Amor (Cupid) respectively. Again, neither managed to fill the space appropriately. Soprano Jendi Tarde was a vocal standout as the raucous Siringa, a country girl and court attendant.
The musical treatment was enhanced by Jaime Puente’s choreography, combining Spanish folk traditions with modern movement. Their use of castanets and Flamenco-style rhythms blended effectively with interpretive dance.
The success of this production was Federico Fiqueroa’s staging. His use of stately Baroque-era mannerisms and blocking provided an artful framework upon which the more modern interpretations of action could convincingly play out. Sensible projections with minimal animation offered warmth and intrigue. Along with brilliantly ornate costume designs by Antonio Bartolo, this production was a visual feast. Bartolo’s clever subversion of 18th century fashion elements with 21st haute couture was both striking and hilarious. Exposed crinolines, draping fabrics, and pasty, dramatic makeup made for fully realized characters. (For example, Juno enters the stage wearing a fiery ensemble of red and black, ornamented with peacock feathers, and accented by an oversized pair of shades and a surprisingly well-behaved Pomeranian).
The Orchestra of New Spain’s mission of bringing relevance to an often underacknowledged corner of the canon was given credence this weekend with Love Conquers Impossible Love. Grover Wilkins’ collaborative efforts yielded a production unlike any I have seen in the Metroplex in quite some time — a delightful confluence of old and new performance standards. The use of local talent and historically oriented creatives speaks to DFW’s continuing commitment to artistic growth through originality and authenticity. While, musically, this presentation was a bit underwhelming, the work as a whole was effective. Not only because of the incredible production value rendered, but because it brought to the continent a new story and a cleverly inventive way of telling it.