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The essence of Zarzuela

The Jane Mallett Theatre
04/27/2016 -  & April 29, 30, May 1, 2016
Jacinto Guerrero: Los Gavilanes
Guillermo Silva-Marin (Juan), Miriam Khalil (Adriana), Ernesto Ramírez (Gustavo), Rosalind McArthur (Dona Leontina), Sarah Forestieri (Rosaura)
The Toronto Operetta Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Larry Beckwith (conductor)
Guillermo Silva-Marin (Director, lighting designer, set décor), Malabar Ltd (costumes)

M. Khalil (© Gary Beechey)

Spanish composer Jacinto Guerrero (1895-1951) created numerous scores for both stage (specifically zarzuelas) and screen (musical films of the 1930s). Los Gavilanes premiered in 1923 at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid.

The plot: a once-poor boy from the small village returns after 20 years, having made his fortune in Peru. He is immediately confronted by an unresolved situation from the past, when he had courted a local girl (Adriana) whose mother (the formidable Dona Leontina) thought him unfit due to his poverty. He departed and, feeling abandoned, Adriana married an older man of her mother’s choosing. He has died and she has a attractive daughter, Rosaura, who has a young boyfriend, Gustavo, but the ever-meddling grandmother wants a wealthier husband for her, and sets her sights on Juan. At first he is taken aback but quickly finds the idea of a pretty, young wife rather desirable. Thus he becomes one of the gavilanes (“sparrow hawks) of the title: one who preys an someone vulnerable. Upon seeing the true nature of the love between the two young people, he realizes how wrong this is. Thus there is a happy ending for the young lovers, while the situation between Juan and Adriana remains unresolved.

Guerrero’s music is piquant and tuneful with lots of variety in the numbers. It is no surprise that it conjures up the popular “Latin” musicals of the thirties - after all, Guerrero was one of the creators of the genre. The work demonstrates that he deserves a place among other operetta composers of the era, such as Emmerich Kálmán and Franz Lehár. The nine-member orchestra is rather skimpy for the big moments, but adds welcome colour throughout.

In its 31-year history (all under the direction of Guillermo Silva-Marin), Toronto Operetta Theatre has now produced seven zarzuelas. This one is sung in Spanish with the spoken dialogue (version by Silva-Marin) in English. This bilingual arrangement works just fine. Aside from being the director, lighting designer and arranger of the set décor, Silva-Marin has assumed the central role of Juan. In case this seems like too much of a one-man band operation, it must be said the he is more than adept in all these functions. He started out as a tenor and is now a baritone and, thanks to his Puerto Rican upbringing, has an instinctive way with the zarzuela idiom.

Mexican tenor Ernesto Ramírez also brings authentic Hispanic brio to his role, the ardent wooer. Miriam Khalil brings full-bodied warmth and ardour to the role of Adriana, whose part can be best described as Puccinian. Sarah Forestieri is somewhat tentative as the young Rosaura. Rosalind McArthur's dark mezzo is just right for the domineering grandmother. Most of the chorus members have roles as various villagers, such as Gregory Finney as the effusive major and Diego Catalá as the strutting lieutenant.

Some of the dramatic turnabouts are abrupt, but the production makes for a diverting evening with a mix of liveliness and sentiment. For those unfamiliar with zarzuela this is a good introduction.

Michael Johnson



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