Music: María Rodrigo
Under the title María Rodrigo: from exile and oblivion to the Auditorio Nacional Maestro José Luis Temes presented a concert in homage to one of the Spain’s earliest professional female composers: María Rodrigo (1888–1967). She was a woman who lived passionately, receiving lessons from Richard Strauss alongside Carl Orff and Wilhelm Furtwängler, and who in 1939 chose to go into the exile after years of balancing an intense creative life with work for the famous teaching initiative Las Misiones Pedagógicas during the Second Republic.
After a first part in which the lovely Symphonic Impressions by Francisco Calés Pinas were played in tandem with María Rodrigo’s best-known works La copla intrusa (in its orchestral version) and Children's Rhymes, the main meat of the concert was the revival of the composer’s sole surviving opera: Becqueriana, to a libretto by the Álvarez Quintero brothers, first performed at Teatro de la Zarzuela in the spring of 1915.
Together with Maruxa by Amadeo Vives, Margot by Joaquín Turina, Conrado del Campo’s La flor del agua, the Spanish premiere of Falla’s La vida breve and the Castilian version of Guridi’s Mirentxu, Becqueriana was amongst the pieces chosen by Pablo Luna, director of the ‘Jovellanos Coliseum’ to be premiered after its 1914 reopening, following the disastrous fire of 1909. All these displayed operatic form or ambition, without turning their backs on the most historic zarzuela traditions. A constellation, in short, of fascinating works updating the old ambitions of Spanish ópera cómica dating back to Barbieri, which had drawn in Fernández Caballero, Chapí and Marqués during previous decades.
For their libretto – a staged gloss on Rima XI ( “Yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena…”) by the Spanish post-romantic poet and playwright Gustavo Adolfo Becquér – the Quintero brothers conceived a contemplative work that in its romantic exaltation and fantastic elements brings to mind The Tales of Hoffmann. A Poet is found in the forest with three women, Passion, Tenderness and Hope (or Illusion). When he decides in favour of the third, he suffers the disillusion from which the torrent of his inspiration will spring. Its taste for study of the fatale aspects of femininity and its idyllic, faery ambience that vacillates between the bucolic and the sinister – a ballet of nymphs and gnomes included – link Becqueriana with all those other zarzuelas/operas premiered during Teatro de la Zarzuela’s reopening seasons. As we might expect, María Rodrigo’s score does not fail to reveal Wagnerian features, subtly nuanced by a refinement of orchestral timbres which seem to relate it to Hänsel und Gretel by Humperdinck or Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Soprano Ruth Iniesta masterfully assumed the opera’s three solo female roles, demonstrating once again that her lyric soprano is zarzuela’s brightest hope. Her musical intelligence matches her acclaimed dramatic commitment. Yet as the Poet, Alejandro del Cerro – blessed with a beautiful voice and super-clear diction – was certainly not eclipsed. The orchestra of Madrid’s Royal Conservatory of Music was ever-attentive to the firm direction of José Luis Temes, a restless soul to whom Spanish music can never be thankful enough. The concert was recorded and will be released on compact disc next year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of María Rodrigo’s death. Most certainly, this was a model to follow for the revival of the work and reputation of a forgotten composer. We must hope that it leads to further revelations.
Diana cazadora: matters pending
On zarzuela.net we should not forget that the María Rodrigo revival will be incomplete until we can hear and evaluate her music for the comic zarzuela in one act Diana cazadora o Pena de muerte al amor (‘Diana the Hunter’ or ‘Death to Love’.) This piece, again written by the brothers Álvarez Quintero, followed hot on the heels of the positive reception for Becqueriana and was premiered at Teatro Apolo in Madrid on November 19, 1915. Thanks to its amusing libretto and short but elegant score (containing the usual habaneras, seguidillas, chotis and waltzes plus three orchestral fragments) the work enjoyed several weeks in the programme, and publication of its sheet music and libretto. There is no chorus, and Diana cazadora needs only two solo tiples – which in a hypothetical recording could be played by the same singer – and a trio of girls. It would be nice to get to know the lighter side of María Rodrigo!
© Enrique Mejías García and zarzuela.net, 2016