El bateo

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated December 12th 2001

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El bateo
by Federico Chueca
libretto by Antonio Paso & Antonio Domínguez

® recommended recording

El bateo ('The baptism'), premiered on 7th November 1901 at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, was the last of Chueca's great successes. The theatre is significant - for the first time Madrid's most truly popular musical hero had been invited to provide a género chico piece for the respectable home of three-act zarzuela. His librettists, the experienced Paso and talented newcomer Domínguez, provided the composer with a vivid, naturalistic slice of life, not without some satirical thrusts at extremist politics and middle-class 'foreign' fads, but in all essentials an optimistic little farce about ordinary people's capacity to forgive and forget.

Chueca and his Wife (self-portrait)
Chueca was a keen photographer - as witness this
idiosyncratic self-portrait of the composer and his wife!

Chueca's score delighted the discerning patrons of the Teatro de la Zarzuela. Once again, it effectively takes the form of a popular dance suite, with its catchy seguidillas, tango, habanera and the rest - many of them quoted in the rhythmically brilliant and popular Preludio - and there is even a mini suite-within-a-suite in the potpourri of the organ-grinders, who play a mazurka and vals before finishing with a "new" pasodoble incorporating quotations from popular scores by Gímenez and Chueca himself. As an enthusiastic amateur of the art, the composer must have relished the opportunity to provide music for the hilarious photography scene, and altogether El bateo is one of his happiest inspirations.

Scene 1 - A street in the poor suburbs of Madrid. After the Preludio, we see guests arriving for a celebration hosted by Señora Valeriana. They join in a spontaneous Seguidillas: "No quiere el Municipio regar", after which the droll republican Wamba entertains the crowd with his guitar playing and a zany satirical Tango about the political state of the nation, full of extremist factions warring at the expense of ordinary people - what it surely needs is a new Robespiere to sort matters out (Tango: "El día menos pensado pasa un barbaridad".)

The reason for the gathering is the baptism of the natural child of Valeriana's daughter Nieves. The father, Lolo, has honourable intentions towards his girlfriend, and the atheistic Wamba is to be the unwilling godfather. Trouble is brewing through the interference of an old sweetheart of Nieves, Don Tancredo Pamplinas, who believes he has proof that Nieves has been receiving visits at night from a strange man. A skittish neighbour, Visita, confirms that she has seen a man climbing in over Nieves' balcony, as does her well-heeled, doting admirer, Virginio. This ill-assorted pair sing a substantial duet, in which Visita's duplicitous greed is fully matched by her lover's foolishness (Dúo-habanera: "Yo me llamo Virginio Lechuga".)

Visita breaks the news of the rumours to Lolo, who is torn between jealous fury and disbelief. A major row with Nieves ensues, though Wamba - sure that the misunderstanding will be sorted out - eventually calms things down. At his suggestion everyone agrees at least to move off to the church of San Antonio de la Florida to get the baptism over and done with, whether or not the marriage is to follow. A crowd of cheeky street urchins joins the crowd as the party marches off to the church (Coro: "Bateo pelao".)

Scene 2 - another side street. A group of organ-grinders (female chorus) has decided to go on strike for better conditions. To the tune of a catchy mazurka they explain that Madrid will be stuck with Beethoven, Verdi and Mozart from now on, and give the audience a final taste of their popular repertoire - including fragments of tunes from La alegría de la huerta and Giménez's La Tempranica - before marching off to join the pickets (Coro de organilleros: "Somos los organilleros".)

Scene 3 - the vestry of the church of San Antonio de la Florida. The Sacristan, Celestino, is meticulously preparing the parish ledger for the baptism, helped by his even slower assistant Expedito, whilst the curate can be heard in the church calling for them to hurry up. Wamba, standing fast by his republican principles, is unwilling to sit in the church to fulfill his duties as godparent, but at length he succumbs to everyone's pleas. The details of the child's parentage are finally being registered; but as Lolo claims paternity Pamplinas storms in, accusing him of being a liar, and the scene ends in confusion.

El bateo - Vocal Score cover

Scene 4 - Don Pascual's restaurant near the church. A frenchified photographer struggles to pose the family group, disrupting the luncheon service in the process (Polka: "¡Qué grupo más bonito!".) In the absence of the organ-grinders, a group of serious musicians try to play an old-fashioned French minuet for the guests to dance to, with predictably ludicrous results as everyone tries to converse in French and even English (Gavota: "Pianísimo ese re").

Before the celebratory lunch can be served, the row breaks out again. Pamplinas's motives were mixed, but he genuinely does not want Lolo to take responsibility for a child that is not his, and all are stunned by the presumed infidelity of Nieves. At last the truth comes out. Wamba was the man seen climbing in through the balcony, visiting not Nieves, but her mother Valeriana! Amicable relations are restored all round, and the baptism meal is finally served by Don Pascual as the curtain falls to a final reminder of the organ-grinders' mazurka from the orchestra.

song texts

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