‘Goyescas’: The In Series’ evocative holiday treat

Classic one-act Spanish opera by Enrique Granados is a welcome and somewhat exotic diversion from Washington’s usual Christmastime fare.

Peter Burroughs and Fairouz Foty star in the In Series' production of Granados' "Goyescas." (Photo by Angelisa Gillyard)

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2016 – In December of each year, music programs throughout the Washington metro area offer their annual gifts of holiday-style programming, which generally offer traditional Christmas-themed choral and instrumental favorites from around the world.

But Washington’s In Series offers its audience a completely different kind of Christmas present: A sparkling, vivacious and often passionate evening of classic Spanish music centered on Enrique Granados’ one-act opera “Goyescas,” a 1915 composition that portray the late 18th century social milieu frequently depicted by famed Spanish artist Francisco de Goya.

The In Series’ main problem in staging this work—even in the larger performance space offered at the GALA Hispanic Theatre—gets down to the simple fact that it’s only one act in length, hardly the length of a standard classical music evening.

But, in typical In Series fashion, the company solved the problem by cobbling together something of a “prequel” consisting of a frame-tale plot connected thematically-related Spanish songs and art songs.

Spanish composer Enrique Granados. (Via Wikipedia entry on the composer, public domain image)

This virtual Act I was strung loosely together by Elizabeth Pringle’s frame-tale plot, which involves a cross section of shipboard passengers returning to Spain. This seemingly casual voyage was actually inspired by and loosely based on Granados’ own tragic 1916 return voyage to Europe from New York in 1916, after “Goyescas” had received its world premiere performance at the Met. Both the composer and his wife perished on that journey, casualties of a torpedo hit on their ocean liner by a German U-boat.

The more open-ended, fictional shipboard scene constructed by Elizabeth Pringle for the In Series’ “Act I” alludes to this voyage, though not literally.

Throughout this musical prelude, the audience is treated to song and dance numbers selected from the works of Granados and fellow Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, plus a few soulful conversations ensue, thematically prefiguring what the audience will see in Act II, aka, Granados’ actual opera.

On the evening we attended this production, highlights of this first stanza included some excellent dance numbers choreographed by director Jaime Coronado. These were brilliantly accompanied by conductor-pianist-music director Carlos Rodríguez, whose exciting performance gave a considerable boost to the entire production.

Act II, the opera itself, consists of three related tableaux, all of which highlight, in drama and song, the tragic situations that can arise when love and Spanish social class traditions collide, which they ultimately do—with tragic consequences.

The main story arc follows the developing romantic entanglements variously involving the dashing, self-important toreador, Paquiro (Alex Alburqueque); the earthy Pepa (Patricia Portillo); the delicate, upper class Rosario (Fairouz Foty); and her forthright but perhaps socially mismatched suitor, Fernando, a dashing but honorable Spanish captain sung by Peter J. Burroughs.

The story proceeds at a leisurely yet measured pace, punctuated by songs and comments offered individually and collectively by Granados’ wise, worldly and all-knowing peasant chorus.

The In Series’ production values have been improving dramatically over the last couple of seasons. This current production of “Goyescas” marks yet another milestone in terms of production quality and singing, the latter of which was outstanding.

The primary cast of singers in “Act II” were highly effective as singer-actors, particularly the lead couple portrayed by tenor Peter J. Burroughs and soprano Fairouz Foty, and the villainous toreador as sun by baritone Alex Alburqueque.

The supporting cast excelled as well, particularly in the numerous choral and dance numbers that contributed in a major way to this show’s intensely passionate Spanish mood.

All in all, although the plot line of this production’s prequel is a bit tenuous, this is a show that’s well worth putting on your holiday calendar. It’s also the kind of show that Washington residents will never see anywhere else.

Rating: *** (Three out of four stars)

The In Series’ “Goyescas” continues through December 18, 2016 at Washington D.C.’s GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. For tickets and information, visit the In Series’ website here.

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