La Calesera

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated February 16th 2002

Mail me or visit my Homepage

La Calesera
by Francisco Alonso
libretto by Emilio García del Castillo and Luis Martínez Román

® recommended recording

Commercially as well as musically, La Calesera represents the high water mark of Alonso's brilliant career. The reasons are easy to seek, given the political fervour of 1925 Madrid. The premiere took place on 12th December, and popularity was pretty well guaranteed to a work combining revolution and escapist romance. La Calesera scores high on both counts. Its passionate actress-heroine has taken the name of La Calesera out of pride in her Andalusian origins - a calesera is a short bolero jacket from the region - and is thoroughly embroiled in the liberal conspiracies that wracked absolutist Madrid at the time of the work's setting, 1832.

Vocal Score of La Calesera (courtesy Rafael Sanchez Alonso)

Sustained musical quality enables it to retain that early popularity. Castillo and Román provided Alonso with a swashbuckling, three-act historical thriller which played directly to the composer’s great strength: the facility to write colorful, ‘Spanish’ music in a variety of regional flavors, which rarely descends into picture-postcard cheapness. Its melodic sweep and passionate vitality are manifest in almost every bar, and numbers such as Maravilla’s first act Seguidillas and the Pasacalle de los chisperos have lost none of their intoxicating rhythmic and instrumental flamboyance.

Act 1 - A Madrid Café, 1832. After a brief, extrovert Preludio, the curtain rises on Pedro García’s theatrical company. Whilst they are waiting to be paid off, the whole company – including their star singer, the boss’s daughter Maravillas, nicknamed La Calesera after the short bolero jacket she wears – sing the amorous comedy story of “Don Tadeo y doña Carlota” to while away the time before her father arrives. A passing wedding procession with its mandolin rondalla also serves to keep them amused. As soon as García arrives the players clamor for their pay. It is left to Maravillas to keep the peace; and once harmony is restored she leads the company in a free-wheeling, improvisatory Seguidillas: “Todos dicien que te quiero, Calesera”, reveling in her own power to attract lovers.

The comedian Gangarilla provokes a lively dialogue about the repressive nature of the government and likely ban on the next piece the troupe is going to perform, although Maravillas is more concerned for the safety of Rafael Sanabria, a an aristocratic liberal politician and her secret lover, especially when Gangarilla repeats a distressing rumor that he has become engaged to Elena, Marquesa de Albas. Another actor notices a masked man who has been listening intently to the conversation, but consternation turns to relief when the troupe realize that it is none other than the famous libertarian bandit, Luis Candeles.

The wedding party enters the café, and the players take advantage of some free drink that is on tap. Their next visitor is slightly less welcome: the Marquesa herself come to await Rafael, accompanied by her faithful majordomo, Calatrava. Having learned of the existence of her beautiful rival, Elena decides to warn her off. When she recognizes Maravillas as a woman who has helped their cause in the past, jealousy turns to controlled spite in a pointed Dúo-Gavota: “Usía es damisela de mariñaque”. There is a volley of shots, and the wounded Rafael staggers in. Elena quickly tends to his wounds, and the pair sing of their love together in front of the stricken Maravillas in a sweeping Terceto: "No has temer pr mí". Rafael blames himself for his cowardice in surrendering to love when humanity is in chains, and sings a stirring song in praise of freedom (Himno: “No hay bien más hermoso que la libertad”.) When Candeles and a comrade hasten onto the scene, begging the troupe to guard the flag of rebellion until the moment comes to raise it, even Maravillas is caught up in the fervor, raising the conspirators’ spirits by waving the flag of rebellion as the curtain falls.

Act 2, Scene 1 - The Teatro del Príncipe. The players are rehearsing their new piece, anxiously waiting for news of the rising. The irrepressible Gangarilla and his fiancée Pirulí banter together in a flirtatious Dúo Cómico, before Maravillas brings disastrous news: the ruling powers have imprisoned the liberal leaders, but Rafael and Elena have escaped with her to the theatre with the police in hot pursuit. The troupe swiftly disguise the nobles and Elena’s faithful majordomo as actors. Calatrava even revels in his new career as a popular singer, venting an amusingly wooden song of gypsy love (Canción: “Salto de mi carabela”.)

Rafael’s gratitude to Maravillas awakens old feelings, and they confess to loving one another still in the intensely felt Dúo: “El veto, mí amor sincero … Deja, que voy a olvidar”. Two policemen duly arrive, but Maravillas and the players sing the swaggering Pasacalle de los chisperos: “Yo no quiero querer a un chispero” (‘Pasacalle of the Bums’) to put them off guard. The ruse works and the police are about to leave when a slip of the tongue by one of the actors leads to the trick being partly discovered. As Elena is unmasked Rafael swiftly steps forward to be arrested and taken off to prison instead, though not before leading a reprise of the great song of liberty (“¡Libertad! Es el grito de la humanidad”.)

Scene 2 - Inside the prison. Rafael laments his fate in a brief Carceleras, or prisoner’s song. Gangarilla has managed to impersonate a guard, and Pirulí and Maravillas pretend to be his sisters in order to gain access to Rafael. The situation is complicated by Elena’s well-meaning majordomo. Sent to deliver a letter from his mistress and failing to gain entry, Calatrava attempts a robbery to get himself put in jail and so carry out his orders. Unfortunately his ‘victim’ turns out to be Luis Candeles, who gives him money and sends him on his way. Another tale of marital mishap from the irrepressible comedians (Dúo Cómico: “Críspulo se ha casado”) distracts the real guards, enabling the conspirators to administer a sleeping potion and make good their escape with the nobleman.

Act 3 - An inn, on the highway to France. The troupe is in desperate flight, but decide to stop for a quick drink at a wayside inn; and led by Gangarilla and Pirulí they break into another song and dance tale (Dúo y Coro: “Por mí dices, Elías”.) Maravillas is in torment, forced to listen as Rafael tells her of his plan to escape with Elena in his noble Romanza: “Agua que río abajo marchó”. When Luis Candeles joins them, she confesses that in her jealousy she has denounced their flight to the police, whose arrival to stop the fugitives is imminent. Candeles does not pause to reveal her treachery, but quickly organizes Rafael’s departure with Elena, exchanging the nobleman’s passport for a false one of his own; and though the lovers manage to escape Luis himself is caught and handcuffed. Over an orchestral Final recalling many of the most memorable themes of the zarzuela, Maravillas sighs that now she has nobody to love her; though before being led away Candeles finds time to whisper that he at least will always love the beautiful Calesera.

[Back to top of page]