Yesterday I caught the last of three performances of Tomás Bretón’s La Verbena de la Paloma given by Toronto Operetta Theatre at the St.Lawrence Centre. It’s a zarzuela. What’s that you may ask. In short it’s the native Spanish form of operetta. Based on what I saw yesterday it has the following elements; a love story with a complication that resolves happily, spoken dialogue, musical numbers including traditional Spanish folk/dance pieces and elements of the commedia dell’arte. These latter included an older man lusting after a much younger girl )actually a pair of them), a jealous lover who is tested by his sweetheart and a bumbling policeman.
In Verbena we kick off with a duet between two elderly gentlemen; Don Sebastián (Sean Curran) and the pharmacist Don Hilarión (Stuart Graham). Curiously they are singing a duet about laxatives, which may be an operatic first. Don Sebastián warns (ineffectually) his friend of the dangers of pursuing younger womern. Enter Julián Tonatiuh Abrego) and his godmother Rita (Katherine Lynn Barr). Julián predictably complains that he is being given the run around by his girlfriend Susana. Next we meet Susana (Margie Bernal), her sister Casta (Olivia Maldonaldo) and their aunt (Karen Bojti). The girls plan to have fun at the fiesta and tease Julián
Along the way we get some interesting musical numbers; a seguidillas for the ensemble, a song and dance number for Don Hilarión which lacked only a high kicking chorus of chorus girls to round it out (beyond TOT’s budget I fear) and the rather lovely “Canción de la Paloma” from Casta. Then came a flamenco number, “Soledad”, sung extremely powerfully and idiomatically by Tia Antonia along with some really excellent flamenco dance from Elena La Comadre. The first act is pretty short, maybe 40 minutes but it flew by.
After the interval comes the second act; which is even shorter. There’s more opportunity for the nieces to get some rather fine singing in. There are opportunities for the bumbling policemen to break up the row between Julián and Don Hilarión before the plot resolves into Julián and Susana making up and Don Hilarión hooking up with Casta (maybe). A big habanera concertante for the whole cast brings things to a rousing conclusion.
The whole thing is presented in typical TOT/Silva-Marin style; props and blocking but no scenery, concert dress more or less. Oddly the ten piece orchestra, ably led by Kate Carver from the piano, was placed to one side of the stage rather than in what passes for a pit in the Jane Mallett Theatre. It didn’t matter, the balance was fine.
So, short and sweet. We were out of the theatre in 90 minutes including the usual intros and an intermission but along the way we got to see a very interesting piece with some well sung set pieces and, luxury indeed, some first rate dance.
TOT did take the opportunity to unveil their 2023/24 season. There are three shows
- G & S’ The Pirates of Penzance in the fall
- Lehar’s The Merry Widow for the holiday season
- Guerrero’s El Huesped del Sevillano (The Guest at the Inn), which apparently features Miguel de Cervantes, in the spring.
Mr. Silva-Marin requests that you bring your three hundred closest friends to each show. Getting back to pre-plague audience levels is proving challenging (and not just for TOT of course).
Photo credits: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios