La vida breve, the first and most important opera by 20th-century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, has a convoluted performance history. Winner of a contest in Madrid in 1905, the lyric drama was not produced as promised. So a frustrated and impoverished Falla left for France, where he polished up the opera's score, expanded its obligatory dance number, and had the libretto translated into French. In 1913 the revised version was given its first performance in, of all places, the provincial city of Nice. Word of mouth quickly reached Paris, where, after a heated bidding war, the Opera-Comique nabbed the right to the local premiere. What Paris loves Madrid must hear, so almost a decade later La vida breve received a triumphant reception in Spain and Falla was rightfully embraced as a nationalist innovator. The opera--whose title translates as "The Short Life"--is distinguished by its masterly evocation of Andalusia through the deft inclusion of myriad folk tunes. Unfortunately the plot, which concerns a Gypsy girl's tragic infatuation with a rich young cad, is threadbare, and the characters, except for the girl, are cardboard figures. One of Falla's later experiments in blending the vernacular with the classical, Seven Popular Spanish Songs (1914), is also included in this Grant Park Symphony Orchestra program, alongside two motets by Tomas Luis de Victoria, a master of the Spanish Renaissance. Headlining this rare local presentation of La vida breve are the Peruvian-born mezzo-soprano Cecilia Angell and the Mexican tenor Miguel Cortez. The choreography is by Pilar Rioja, a dancer known for her synthesis of traditional Spanish dances and modern techniques. Eduardo Mata, the accomplished Mexican-born veteran and an apostle of Hispanic music, conducts. Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 7 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 819-0614.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephen Lickman.