Las Leandras

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated January 14th 2000

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Las Leandras
by Francisco Alonso
libretto by Emilio González del Castillo and Jose Muñoz Román

® recommended recording

If the glittering career of Madrid revista or revue effectively began with La Gran Vía in 1886, it reached its apogee some forty-five years later with Las Leandras, first seen at the Teatro Pavón on 12 November 1931. If indeed Las Leandras really is a revista, rather than a proper zarzuela ... a debate would demonstrate the fatuity of pigeon-holing these unique stage works as one thing or another. However it may be categorised, Las Leandras remains one of the most sparkling jewels in the whole Spanish music theatre tradition.

The librettists' droll description - "a lyric comedy diversion in two acts, divided into a prologue, five scenes, several subscenes and apotheosis" - cocks a snook at dramatic pretension. Las Leandras is a risque little farce, full of double-entendres and what used to be called "sauciness", tricked out with musical numbers of more - or in most cases less - consequence to the plot. Its Political Incorrectness, so blatant to blushful modern sexual mores, takes nothing away from its sheer cleverness.

Celia Gamez
Celia Gámez, the chanteuse star of Las Leandras

It was written to show off the talents of the great Argentinian chanteuse Celia Gámez, to whom the piece is dedicated - she played Concha plus La Aurelia in the "zarzuela" scene, and her younger sister played Fermina. Alonso's music is a piquant concoction of modern and traditional styles. The grand sweep of La Calesera and La Parranda is absent. In its place we get a compendium of thirties dances blended with traditional Madrid models, full of catchy tunes and sharply effective orchestration. Numbers such as Pichi, the Lesson Scene, and above all the rousing Pasodoble "Por la calle de Alcalá" are still part of madrileño folklore, and the bust commemorating their composer can still be seen on Alcalá, with a good view down to the junction with La Gran Vía. Both the Pasodoble and Pichi boast something very rare for popular songs - an unforgettably memorable "B-section" tune. Las Leandras is proof that in the right hands, revista-revue could be transmuted into something of lasting value.

las leandras - original poster (courtesy Rafael Sanchez Alonso)

Prologue. The curtain rises on the triumphant finale of a Madrid revue, starring Concha Valverde. The chorus girls, including Concha's friend Aurora, congratulate the budding star. Aurora's father Porras, an old stager currently working as prompter, joins in, as does the Catalan theatre manager Don Cosme. Little more than a year ago Concha had been a schoolgirl. Her mother died, leaving her in the care of cousin Uncle Francisco from the Canaries. He sent her to the Catholic Institute of Our Lady in Madrid to complete her moral education, and he has promised her "something in the bank" once her studies are completed. She was thrown out of the Convent School after a riot in the Botanical Gardens and took up revue work after that, but keeps up the Convent pretence to her uncle, with the help of a couple of schoolfriends who bring her his letters.

Her boyfriend Leandro, a shady property dealer of sorts with an eye to the main chance, runs in with a view to beating up some terrified admirers from the audience who have tried to present Concha with a bouquet. Sick of his destructive jealousy, she goes off to change. When a schoolgirl arrives with Concha's letters, Leandro examines them suspiciously before allowing them through. Concha has received one from her uncle, from which it is clear he's coming to Madrid, accompanied by his nephew, a Naval Officer he intends to marry off to Concha.

Her cover is about to be blown, until Leandro comes up with a bright idea - he has a hotel on his books which has been empty for three months. Why not put the chorus girls in uniform and set up a spurious Young Ladies' College for a few days? They enthusiastically agree to help out, although the furious Don Cosme threatens to sack them all and refuse to back a new show for Concha.

During an Intermedio, a medley of tunes form the show, a large billboard is displayed in front of the curtain: "Las Leandras, modern college of education for women, superior instruction. Girls of 15-17, preparation for convent entry, mothers in a few months, 10AM - 8PM. On parle français, Speach Inglis, S'parla catalá."

Act 1 (Scene 1) - June afternoon in the hall of the hotel in suburbs of Madrid. Leandro, kitted out in mortarboard and gown, and his assistant Aurora are giving the "pupils" an extremely dubious lesson in arithmetic, political economy, and urban transport, packed with entendres which are too overt even to qualify as double. (Dúo comico y coro: "A dar lección"). Porras hasn't managed to convince Don Cosme to reconsider the sackings, and agress to act as College Porter, a job he feels considerably beneath his dignity. To Concha's distress Leandro has admitted some real students - including a Canon's daughter, a little academe in uniform and pigtails with a morbid interest in human physiology called Clementina. Manuela Morales, a wealthy if somewhat vulgar woman from Colmanarejo with a canary-dealer for a husband, comes in with Leandro and her slow-witted daughter Fermina. She is to come to the school to learn cookery and other wifely duties, whilst preparing for marriage with her cousin. Leandro explains that they also prepare for widowhood, as witness the lesson in progress - Concha and the girls, dressed as widows, and running through a sequence from her new revue. (Solo y Coro: "Ay qué triste ser la viuda"). Señora Morales is impressed by all this elegance, and agrees to return with the money to enrol Fermina in the school. Leandro is impressed by the girls well-developed figure, and by her money.

The short-sighted Postman arrives with some mail for another Concha, surnamed Martinez, director of the Beauty Parlour formerly based in the hotel. Leandro learns from him that this "Beauty Parlour" was nothing other than a high-class brothel. One of the letters to Concha Martinez is postmarked "Colmenarejo", and soon Francisco Morales (canary-dealing husband to Manuela) turns up with his nephew Casildo, a sexually inexperienced booby. Francisco is sure the letter he has sent to Concha - to whose professional services he is no stranger - will ensure Casildo some good experience before the wedding; and when Porras emerges, he tells Francisco that indeed the letter to Concha from her "Uncle Francisco" has arrived. "The Canaries?", checks Porras. Precisely. The farce is underway.

When Concha appears and greets him effusively, "Uncle" Francisco is understandably baffled, but doesn't look the gift horse in the mouth. "And this must be the nephew you mentioned in your letter?" Yes, indeed. Wanting to put her "cousin" off by giving him the impression of being free and easy, she launches into a number in praise of the new divorce laws, in which the men join (Trio cómico: "Ahora es casarse cosa de juego"). Francisco is further confused when Concha present the Director, Leandro, but assumes this is a new regime who've taken over the old clientele when Leandro asks how The Canaries are doing. Cochas takes Francisco away to talk to her companions, a delight he willingly undertakes, whilst the jealous Leandro detains Casildo to confirm his marital intentions. Casildo is surprised Leandro seems to know of his marriage plans, but tells him that this Concha business is all his uncle's idea, which fires Leandro's jealousy further. Meanwhile the lubricious Francisco has met Clementina, a fresh vision in uniform and pigtails. Assuming she's one of the dishes on offer, he is happy to be pretend he's a visiting Professor of Physiology, come to give the girl a special lesson in bones; and when she tells him about living in Ireland with the Canon for six years, his enthusiasm knows no bounds. Time for the next lecture - which is about Pichi, a boy doll popular at the time, who featured in a series of magazine stories. The doll presents himself in a sexily ambiguous Chotis, sung by Concha and the girls (Chotis: "Pichi".)

Leandro bullies Casildo into admitting the "truth" - that he's only marrying his cousin on his uncle's orders, though everyone knows she's no better than she should be. The incensed Leandro tells Francisco that Concha's morality is doubtful - no news to Francisco about his Concha, of course - before leaving in a jealous fury. Finally Porras takes Francisco and Casildo to see another tableau in their honour, this time with Concha as Clara Bow being entertained by sailors of different nationalities in the port of New York (Final: "Clara Bow, gentil star").

Act 2 (Scene 2) - A telephone lobby off the main hall, later in the afternoon. Aurora and Porras are scandalised by the behaviour of "Uncle" Francisco, currently chatting up one of the dancing girls in the hall, in his capacity as Visiting Professor. Even Leandro is shocked, though Porras points out that at least "Uncle" is hardly in a position to object to Concha's morals, and may well sponsor the new revue himself. Manuela turns up with the money to enrol Fermina, although her daughter again begs her not to give her away to the odious Casildo. Porras ushers in another visitor, a highly respectable gentleman also called Don Francisco - the real one this time - come to visit his niece. Whilst waiting to meet Headmaster Leandro, he uses the telephone to ring the Canaries Club, and tells his nephew Ernesto that having found the college he'll shortly collect him so they can both meet Concha. "Uncle" Francisco bounces in, and introduces himself to his fellow "client", going on to complain that he's been here for two hours without being given a proper seeing-to. He is confused in his turn when Don Francisco tells him that, if he wasn't a widower, he would have sent his wife instead. The verbal exchange that follows is completely at cross purposes. How's the music here? Worse than it was, they've moved the pianola. Much beating? Francisco hopes so. Don Francisco leaves to collect Ernesto, well satisfied with moral standards at the college. Casildo and "Uncle" are taken off to watch a tableau of steamy tropical love, which Concha and the chorus perform in honour of The Canaries (Canción Canarías: "El bailar el tajaraste").

Aurora and Porras report that Concha has asked "Uncle" to sponsor the new revue, and look forward to a bright theatrical future - especially if Concha will give her some solo work, and let her marry Casildo instead. The two of them work on Francisco, who thinks they are talking about charges for the "house service" rather than a theatrical production, and misunderstands when Aurora offers her services as a solo act! After some further discussion, she goes off with Casildo to "discuss business". Porras goes on to ask Francisco what sort of women he prefers - meaning, of course, for the chorus of the revue. After some thought, Francisco says his absolute favourites are the flower girls at the Apolo Theatre, which transports Porras to his seventh heaven - just imagine, a revue production at the Teatro Apolo ...

The 100th performance of Las Leandras
The triumphant 100th performance of Las Leandras,
with the composer and two librettists centre

(Scene 3) Porras's fantasy zarzuela scene. First, a well-known local celebrity, the Man with the Bowler Hat, delivers a poetic prologue painting the scene outside the theatre, with its florists, rose sellers, its streetwise boys and girls spending money and making love, on this verbena (festival) night of San Antonio. The curtain rises, and we see the street outside the Teatro Apolo, on the Calle de Alcalá, filled with a motley collection of tradesmen including Aurelia, a lovely young flower-seller - Concha again - and a young dandy (El Gomoso). A scene in comically stilted verse follows, with Aurelia rejecting the advances of El Gomoso. She loves only Paco el Garboso ('Elegant') - who looks amazingly like Leandro. The lovers launch into the Habañera dúo: "Dile al gomoso ... la verbena de San Antonio" which parodies lovers' banter in earlier zarzuelas such as La revoltosa, and ends with them agreeing to go off to the verbena. Paco has asked for money, but as soon as Aurelia gives him some, he starts making excuses not to go. Furiously, she tells him she will go to the verbena by herself and storms out, leaving him to go off to San Antonio by himself. The music strikes up, and Aurelia marches back on at the head of a troop of flower girls, who conclude the scene with the famous "Pasacalle of the Roses", Pasacalle de los nardos: "Por la calle de Alcalá", in praise of the erotic power of the roses they sell on Madrid's favourite street.

(Scene 4) The terrace of the hotel. After a scene in which Porras flirts with two of the young pupils, "Uncle" Francisco reappears, frantically trying to get him hands on at least one of them. He is discovered by his surprised wife and daughter, and when Manuela explains that Fermina is to learn wifely duties here for the few days before her marriage, he finds himself in a difficult position. What sort of "college" do they think this is? His wife shows him the newspaper advert for Las Leandras, which incenses him even more, and he chases them off. Casildo has realised all is not as it seemed, and has at least unravelled the confusion over the "Canary Uncle". Francisco, finally accepting his mistake, gets Casildo to fetch the wife and daughter back, and tells Concha to keep her distance. Thinking her "uncle" has discovered all, she begs histrionically that he will forgive her, and throws herself into his arms at the very moment Leandro reappears. He too has discovered the truth about "uncle", and immediately accuses Concha of taking advantage of the situation to cavort with the old canary-seller. Matters come to a head when the real Don Francisco reappears with his nephew Ernesto, the spruce young Naval Officer. Another "uncle" is too much for Leandro and he violently attacks the newcomer, who is being defended by Ernesto and Concha as Manuela, Casildo, Fermina and Porras reappear. The curtain falls on a scene of total mayhem.

(Scene 5) After an Intermedio based on the dance music for the "widows", Casildo tells Francisco that Concha's uncle is furious with her, and with Leandro. Francisco in turn reveals that they've been fooled by a lot of theatrical types, and Casildo is equally appalled. Concha comes in with her heavily bandaged uncle, who reveals that "something in the bank" meant just that - an offer to get her a job in a bank, as a typist! Sponsoring an artistic career for her is quite out of the question. Calling him a Scrooge, she goes off in tears, pursued by Ernesto. Leandro meanwhile has had enough of Concha's "uncles" and has decided to marry Fermina - to everyone's relief, including his own. Fermina is such a fool that he needn't be jealous any more, and is a changed man. Before Francisco can say anything, he leaves with Fermina and her mother. The canary-seller consoles Casildo - at least he'll escape close contact with her mother. Porras announces that the girls have prepared a final tableau for everyone, and the curtains open to reveal a glittering throneroom. The Girls play flexitones, as Concha and Ernesto mount the steps to the throne, finishing in an embrace - to the undisguised delight of the whole company (Apoteosis, Coro: "El beso de una mujer".)

complete song texts

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