Abandon the screen this Halloween and let a pair of spooky operas provide your seasonal thrills. This is the invitation extended by Opera Santa Barbara’s latest production, a double bill offered at the Lobero on Friday, October 29, and Sunday, October 31, featuring two short works from the early decades of the 20th century, Il tabarro by Giacomo Puccini and El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla. El amor brujo tells the story of a beautiful woman who can’t move on from an affair with a man now dead who haunts her in the form of a ghost. The Santa Barbara–raised mezzo-soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen will sing Candela, the leading role, and dancers from State Street Ballet choreographed by Cecily Stewart MacDougall will perform the work’s ballet sequences, including the work’s famous “fire dance.”
In Il tabarro, Puccini harnesses theatrical elements from the Parisian Grand Guignol to verismo, the fin de siècle operatic tradition of showing characters from everyday life enduring tragic, often violent fates. In the estimation of Opera Santa Barbara general and artistic director Kostis Protopapas, who will conduct both works, Il tabarro is Puccini’s most underrated work. Mature style firmly in place, the composer drives the action forward with a sense of excitement and fatal inevitability that rivals that of the best suspense films.
These works were written in the shadow of an oncoming world war, and the notion of a restless spirit seeking forbidden satisfaction catalyzes both plots. In Brujo, Candela cannot enjoy the attention of her living lover Carmelo until her friend Lucia succeeds in seducing the Specter that haunts her. By taking elements from Roma legend and combining them with Andalusian musical influences, de Falla weaves a vivid portrait of a superstitious gitaneria, or “little village,” where past trauma informs every aspect of life.
Il tabarro takes its title from the cloak with which barge owner and jealous older husband Michele (Todd Thomas) covers up the corpse of Luigi (Harold Meers), the man he has murdered. Later on, when his wife Giorgetta (Alaysha Fox) comes looking for Luigi, Michele pulls the tabarro aside to reveal his corpse. Murder concealed, then revealed with a vengeance, paired with the defeat of a jealous ghost by sexual trickery — what’s not to like?
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These brief musical dramas come down to us from the height of opera’s ascent as a popular form. Audiences in the 1920s flocked to such spectacles with a sense of agitated, darkly erotic anticipation similar to that aroused later in the century by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and David Cronenberg. Fans of these directors who attend this Opera Santa Barbara Halloween double-feature will recognize the influence of both composers on later film scores, particularly in such sequences as the various “danzas” of Brujo, such as the “danza del terror” and of course the “danza del ritual del fuego.”
In Il tabarro, listen for the way Yoshida Nelsen, who sings the secondary but fascinating role of Frugola in that piece, sets off a passionate duet between the lovers Giorgetta and Luigi with her dreams of living in a cottage in the countryside. The slowly building sexual tension of the scene foreshadows deeper shadows to come, making for a superb introduction to the troubled relationship and its violent outcome.
For tickets and information, visit operasb.org or call the Lobero box office at (805) 963-0761.