Half a century after his death, Manuel de Falla's stock has risen among musicologists and concertgoers: the epithet "Spain's greatest composer" is now indisputably his. While he was alive, however, the Cadiz-born Falla invited controversy in his native land by imaginatively marrying Andalusian folk elements with French impressionism, even though the introduction of folk material was already the hallmark of eastern European and Russian musical styles. After essaying a couple of zarzuelas (Spanish populist operas) he established a foothold in Madrid's opera world with the two-act tragedy La vida breve. His music from 1909 to 1919--a decade that marked the mature phase of his career--could be described as a sort of Spanish impressionism: piquant yet delicate, sophisticated yet folksy. It's only appropriate that the homage to Falla mounted by the Opera Factory this weekend and next should be devoted to major works from this pivotal period. Foremost on the extensive bill--mostly because it's so rarely performed--is Siete canciones populares espanolas (1914); each song presents Falla's own spin on a distinctive regional idiom. The premiere of the "staged" version of these songs will feature well-regarded local singers--soprano Donna Sadlicka, tenor Calland Metts, and baritone Andrew Schultze among them--in authentic costumes and warbling in appropriate accents. Also slated are excerpts from one of Falla's best-known efforts, El amor brujo, a ballet-pantomine based on a fierce, macabre Andalusian gypsy tale, which will feature Pascual Olivera and Angela Del Moral, both veteran ballet principals and Opera Factory regulars, in passionate pas de deux. The tribute's high point, however, is likely to be the new staging of La vida breve, always a crowd pleaser for the 12-year-old Opera Factory, whose faithful revivals of zarzuelas and other classics of Spanish musical theater have won international attention. Olivera, who's directed Placido Domingo and Gloria Estefan, reportedly will opt for a nontraditional approach in which he and Del Moral enact the alter egos of the star-crossed lovers, who'll be sung by Sadlicka and Metts. Saturday, 8 PM, Sunday, 3 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, September 20 and 21, 8 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 761-1334, 935-6860, or 902-1500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Donna Sadlicka photo/ Calland Metts photo.