Miami Lyric Opera uncovers a Spanish gem with Arrieta’s charming “Marina”

By Alan Becker

Composer Emilio Arrieta

Miami Lyric Opera works at a disadvantage with its shoestring budget. Sets and staging are minimal, and the undernourished orchestral forces cannot compete with those of most larger companies. Still, they continue to earn an “A” for effort in doing the best they can with limited resources.

With its current production of Emilio Arrieta’s Marina, Miami Lyric Opera is presenting a genuine rarity, and all local opera fans should be grateful for the opportunity to hear this infrequently performed work and make up their own minds as to its quality.

Thursday night’s performance at Miami Beach’s Colony Theater revealed an opera of considerable merit. While Arrieta originally conceived of Marina as a zarzuela in two acts, he later expanded it to operatic dimensions by adding an extra act and retooling the spoken dialogue into accompanied recitative.

Having learned his craft in Italy, it was inevitable that the Spanish composer would absorb the prevailing compositional style. Marina sounds much like Donizetti at his most felicitous, with a bit of Bellini and early Verdi added to the mix. Arrieta does manage to largely avoid Verdi’s “oompah” rhythms, but cannot resist letting his soprano leap into the stratosphere with the role’s high tessitura. The music also has a gentle purity that is frequently quite beautiful, and a freshness of melodic invention that charms with its simplicity.

Following a brief overture, we are taken to the shores of a Mediterranean village where two men vie for the attentions of the lovely Marina. Jorge, the older merchant captain who took her in as a guardian after her father’s death, is the true object of her affections, although she has never revealed her feelings to him. Pascual, the other protagonist, takes Marina for granted and announces his intention to marry her. After several twists and turns all ends well, and Marina unites with the lover of her choice. Given the usual tragic outcome of many operas, Marina breaks the mould with a happy ending, and characters who are likeable and respectful of each other, albeit not without some dramatic conflict.

¬†As Marina, soprano Beverly Coulter makes a striking appearance, performing as if she had lived with the role for some time. This Marina is no shrinking violet, yet Coulter’s voice is pleasing, with the ability to float tones quietly, or propel her sound with vigor when necessary.

Following a tentative start, Aurelio Gabaldon made the most of Jorge, Marina’s guardian and eventual soulmate. The tenor doesn’t look much older than Marina, but, no matter. His contribution to ensembles and duets was most impressive, and his singing, forceful yet never raw, made him a likable hero for Marina.

The powerful singing of Diego Baner’s Pascual made us almost lament the character’s eventual lack of success in love. Baner’s bass is a fine, sturdy instrument that sets the imagination to work thinking of all the operatic roles he could successfully tackle.

Veteran Cuban baritone Hugo Marcos handled the role of Roque with professionalism. The voice now has a tendency to wobble when pushed too hard, yet the Boatswain is a taxing role, onstage for much of the time. His idiomatic Seguidillas and Tango in the last act were a joy to hear.

Conductor Alfredo Munar held his orchestra together reasonably well. Although this was hardly the most ideal performance imaginable, given the bare-bones forces, the musical direction was good enough to convey the essence of the music.

Stage direction continues to adhere to the “face the audience and belt it out” school. The minor roles were all in good hands, and the choral work was reasonably enthusiastic, with sets and costumes a significant advance on what this company had been doing just a few years ago.

Emilio Arrieta’s Marina will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at the Colony Theatre with Maruchi Urquiaga in the title role. www.miamilyricopera,org; 305-674-1040.

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Fri Jul 31, 2009
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