Opera Reviews

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Placido Domingo and Soprano Yali-Marie Williams in the Los Angeles Opera's production of "Luisa Fernanda" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Ole for Domingo in ‘Luisa Fernanda’

By Juliet Schoen / Staff Writer

“Luisa Fernanda” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is a lightweight Spanish operetta, called a zarzuela, which capitalizes on a heavyweight performance by Placido Domingo. The last offering of the Los Angeles Opera this season, the operetta is a bland entertainment lacking any Spanish flavor. However, Domingo, now in his 60s, has a role that fits him perfectly, as does his costume as a wealthy landowner.

His voice is deeper and close to baritone range, but his singing is still true and powerful.

His stage presence is awesome, as he dominates the action. He and a younger man vie for the affections of the lady of the title who, if she had any sense, would immediately choose the older man. However, then there would be no operetta.

Senorita Fernanda has been abandoned by Javier, the soldier she loves. After many years of separation, he returns as a colonel in the Spanish army. He ignores her in favor of a duchess who has more clout. The plot thickens as fighters for freedom try to wrest power from the monarchy. Unfortunately, you need the program synopsis to explain what is going on.

Ultimately, everything settles down as Luisa chooses to marry Vidal Hernando (Domingo) and retire to his country estate. Alas, the soldier comes back for Luisa and she must choose between love and security.

Instead of colorful Spanish costumes, the members of the cast all wear white. The set is modernistic with little to associate the story with Madrid except for a tiny model of the city on the side of the stage.

There are two charming dances, one with the men in formal white and the women with lacy parasols for twirling. Nuria Castejon was responsible for the choreography, fighting through an incompatible set.

Soprano Yali-Marie Williams sang Luisa and did a serviceable job as did others in the cast, including Antonio Gandia, as Javier, and Elena de la Merced as the Duchess Carolina. Everyone was dwarfed by the presence of Domingo who was weaned on zarzuelas by his parents.

The set was designed by Emilio Sago who was also responsible for the lackadaisical directing. Miguel Roa was very much at home with the zarzuela and conducted the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra with vigor. The 1932 score by Federico Moreno Torroba is definitely hummable but needs someone like Domingo to make it soar.