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Music director Grover Wilkins III won a permanent place of honor on the local music scene last week with a masterful production of eighteenth-century "zarzuela," Las Nuevas armas de amor.

The Classical Note: Ambitious Production Bodes Well for The Orchestra of New Spain’s Future

The Orchestra of New Spain and music director Grover Wilkins III won a permanent place of honor on the local music scene—and permanent admiration from this listener—last week with a masterful and constantly delightful production of eighteenth-century Spanish composer Sebastián Durón’s zarzuela Las Nuevas armas de amor (Cupid’s New Weapons of Love) of 1711 at City Performance Hall. The production marked the first modern performance of a work that deserves to be ranked as a masterpiece.

Zarzuela is the vernacular operatic form of Spain and Latin America—roughly, the equivalent of the American Broadway show or the British light operetta. But it boasts a much longer history, flourishing as early as the 1630s and continuing in an unbroken tradition through the middle twentieth century, with revival as a popular commercial art form in recent decades.

The modern opera connoisseur is most likely to be struck by the similarities of Cupid’s New Weapons to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. And while one wouldn’t quite place the former on the pinnacle of the latter, Cupid’s New Weapons is remarkable for its boldly assertive symbolism as well as for the consistent craftsmanship and engaging quality of Durón’s music. In Cupid’s New Weapons, the conflict of the desires for erotic pleasure and the equally strong compulsion for order take the form of a war between Cupid and Jupiter. Diana joins forces with Cupid, resulting in a surprising defeat for the King of the Gods. And, as in The Magic Flute, loftier philosophical quandaries are constantly set against unbridled “low” passions.

The production, spoken in English and sung in Spanish, was both simple and authentic, with extraordinary attention to reviving the acting styles, costumes, and sets of early eighteenth-century Spain. Mezzo-soprano Carla López Speziale in the title role of Cupid was first among many spectacular artists in the cast, which also featured remarkable performances by soprano Irasema Trrazas as Diana and soprano Anna Fredericka Popova > as Jupiter. Stage director Gustavo Tambascio succeeded in bringing the stylized acting of the early eighteenth century zarzuela to life in a way that was never dull or pedantic, while Wilkins conducted an engaging reading by the small but tightly concise orchestra and chorus.

Director Wilkins has international ambitions for this unique Dallas-based ensemble. This superb fully-staged production should inspire further local support for and attention to his efforts.

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With a very busy week upcoming on the local classical scene, two events stand out.

For piano buffs, the Fort Worth portion of the Cliburn Competition’s International Screening Auditions will take place on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons and evenings at Ed Landreth Auditorium, bringing to a close the first round of this year’s version of the world’s greatest piano competition. (Audition rounds have already been completed in recent weeks in Hong Kong, Hamburg, New York, Milan, and Moscow.)

Saturday evening, soprano Ava Pine, the Texas-born TCU graduate who has staked out international stardom while continuing to come home for appearances in Dallas and Fort Worth, appears in a concert focusing on Handel with the Dallas Bach Society Saturday night at Church of the Incarnation.

<em>Image: The cast of The Orchestra of New Spain’s </em>Las Nuevas armas de amor<em> (via)</em>