La alegría de la huerta

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated November 17th 2001

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La alegría de la huerta
by Federico Chueca
libretto by Antonio Paso & Enrique García Álvarez

® recommended recording

In La alegría de la huerta (Madrid, Teatro Eslava, 20th January 1900) Chueca for once moved away from the capital into a country setting, the lovely and varied agricultural area of Murcia known as La Huerta ('Orchard'.) García Álvarez and Paso put together a tightly effective text, in which most of the characters speak in naturalistic Murcian dialect. Piporro's sage-sounding but vacuous pronouncements poke subtle fun at the ideal of the wise village elder, undefiled by urban sophistication; and there is more verbal fun to be had from Heriberto, a Shakespearian creation reminiscent of Berlioz's Somarone in Beatrice et Benedict, who lards his pretentious speeches with the affected Italianisms of an over-weaning rural musician.

la alegria de la huerta - original vocal score cover, picturing the Jota

The real composer at least allowed Heriberto to "write" a really catchy pasodoble, one of the highlights of this brief score. Despite the nominal setting, Chueca's music does not move far away from his beloved Madrid, at least until the magnificent final Jota: "¡Huertanica de mi vida!" which provides the dramatic as well as musical climax to the action. Instead of typical Murcian dances such as the parranda, he gives us a pasacalle, a chotis and that pasodoble with which Heriberto hopes to gain his own engagement in the capital. Apart from the Jota the best tunes, notably the heart-lifting melody later associated with the Virgin of Fuensanta, are all in the fine Preludio; but nothing in Chueca's vital score falls below the level of the very best of his Madrid sainetes.

The action takes place in Murcia's rich agricultural heartland, the Huerta, during the Fiesta of the Virgin of Fuensanta, Patron of the region. Carola "la alegría de la huerta" ('the pride of La Huerta') and Alegrías are drawn to one another, but the young man has been too respectful of the girl's feelings to declare his love.

Scene 1 - Verdant countryside in the Huerta of Murcia. After a substantial Preludio the curtain rises to reveal a typical country scene. Women are washing clothes in a stream, whilst a group of gypsies dance and sing (Coro y zambra: "Arza, gitana"). One of the gypsies, María de la Angustias, sings a passionate flamenco song (Canción: "Erase el 'churumbel' más bonico") before they pack up and leave.

The waggish Troncho discusses Alegrías failure to act with old Tío ('uncle') Pipporo over a bottle or three of wine. They agree that there will be trouble unless the pair make a match very soon. Trouble duly arrives, in the shape of Heriberto, talentless director of the local charanga (wind band) who is taking advantage of Alegrías' hesitancy to divert Carola's attentions towards Juan Francisco, son of the District Deputy. Heriberto has deluded himself into thinking that this good office, together with the dedication of his latest pasodoble to the young man, will procure for him the directorship of the great San Bernadino band in Madrid.

Carola brings her washing from the stream, hoping that Alegrías will at long last speak out to her; but through she hears him singing of his own unhappiness, he does not approach her directly, and she is left hurt and alone (Dúo: "Corre, mulille torda".)

Troncho, clarinetist in the band, is fully awake to the bandmaster's machinations and determines to speak up for his friend. Stung by this well-meaning but clumsy intervention, Carola accepts Juan Francisco's proposal, agreeing to be formally betrothed at the Hermitage of Fuensanta before the Fiesta procession. Alegrías comes in, determined at last to speak; but it is all too late, and he leaves heartbroken. Heriberto is triumphant, and Troncho decides to make him pay for his treachery by spoiling the performance of the new pasodoble.

Scene 2 - A wooded part of the Huerta. Heriberto and his band march in to rehearse their pasodoble. The oddly assorted bunch include a lame flautist and a deaf drummer as well as Troncho and his clarinet. In a comic interlude reminiscent of the rustics' rehearsal from A Midsummer Night's Dream, the nervous composer puts his amusingly incompetent players through their musical paces, with the mischievous Troncho causing all the trouble he can. At length Heriberto is satisfied by a reasonable performance of the Pasodoble (played by the orchestra in the pit!) and his virtuosi march off towards the Hermitage.

Scene 3 - The Hermitage of Fuensanta. Hawkers are selling their wares outside the church, and a blind man begs for alms (Solo y Coro: "Una limosnita"). A bell tolls and the people are heard within, singing a Hymn to the Virgin, as introduction to the lovely melody familiar from the Preludio (Coro: "Señora Reina de los cielos"). A group of pious women dressed demurely in black leave the church, discussing the lovely sermon they have just heard, and gossiping about the worldly prayers they would like to be answered (Coro: "¡Qué sermón escuché!")

Santuario de la Virgen de Fuensanta
Santuario de la Virgen de Fuensanta, Patron of Murcia

Convinced that Troncho is planning something unpleasant for the performance, Heriberto informs Piporro that he is going to make sure the villager due to play the cabezudo (carnival dwarf) in the procession displaces the treacherous clarinetist in the band. He rushes off to arrange matters; but the wily Troncho, guessing his plan, bribes the fellow to hand over his costume. When Heriberto flatters the 'cabezudo' by gratuitously insulting the original clarinettist and his talents, Troncho is unable to keep his temper and a fight develops. Luckily, the other musicians and an officer of the guardia intervene before Troncho's cover is blown, and Heriberto's swap is duly effected. Meanwhile, Alegrías has told Piporro that he cannot bear to see his beloved married to another, and must leave the Huerta forever.

Juan Francisco comes in with Carola. He is sensitively concerned at her evident distraction (Dúo: "¿Por qué estas triste"); but before Carola can allay his doubts Alegrías appears with the rondalla of guitars and bandurrias to sing a lively Jota, in which he blesses his beloved girl of the Huerta (Jota: "¡Huertanica de mi vida!") Juan Francisco is impressed by his rival's magnanimity, but when Alegrías comes out to wish Carola luck and take his leave of her forever, she finally breaks down and confesses her true feeling. The generous Juan Francisco releases her from her promise, and Piporro leads a toast to the happy couple as they and the villagers sing the thrilling Jota once again.

The Fiesta procession begins, and Heriberto signals to the band - which is the cue for a series of unmusical screeches from the disguised Troncho and his clarinet. When Heriberto, thoroughly mortified, mistakenly starts beating the innocent cabezudo, the crowd laughs heartily. Once Troncho realises that Alegrías has won his Carola after all, he begs pardon of Heriberto, and the zarzuela ends with the Pasodoble played to its creator's evident satisfaction.

song texts

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