Pretty thin stuff this — thin and pretty. It was inevitable that Placido Domingo would call upon his heritage, as scion of a zarzuela troupe that had migrated to Mexico from Spain in 1950, to spice up his latter-day life as bicoastal impresario. “Luisa Fernanda” had been one of that troupe’s hit offerings. A couple of syncopated tunes welling up from conductor Miguel Roa’s orchestra pit, with castanets and snare drum at the ready, and even a deaf man would know why.
The plot of “Luisa” — or what’s left of it after some exuberant paring down in this “critical version by Federico Moreno-Torroba Larregla” — concerns lovelorn Luisa and her two suitors. To nobody’s surprise, Domingo gets to sing most of the lush, pleading music (which he does most appealingly, minus a bleat or two on opening night). Then, to everyone’s surprise, he loses the lady at the final curtain to the strident-voiced tenor (Antonio Gandia), most of whose music had been cut back in this “critical version.”
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Yali-Marie Williams was the assured, resonant Luisa on opening night, the understudy replacing the “indisposed” Maria Jose Montiel.
Emilio Sagi takes credit for set design, previously seen at Domingo’s Washington Opera and also, on DVD, at Madrid’s Teatro Real.
It’s a curious concoction consisting, for the first two acts, of a lineup of plain ladderback chairs, backed by projected black-and-white rectangles that expand and contract on a time frame of their own. Now and then dancers appear, off in a distance behind a filmy scrim; those moments are magical. At other times there are just a lot of chairs in a blank space, and those moments are makeshift. A large green tree filled the stage in the third act, crowding the action off to the side.
At a gathering last week, Domingo spoke of hopes for someday establishing a bicoastal zarzuela company to establish and preserve this charming, and potentially rewarding theatrical genre in a proper setting — which the 3,000-plus-seat Chandler Pavilion with its $200-plus tickets is decidedly not. A season that proclaimed the strengths of the company with its “Don Carlo” and “Poppea,” then veered dangerously toward the trivial with the late-season “Merry Widow” and now this outing, suggests a call for red flags.