|Ventura de la Vega|
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Born in Buenos Aires, 14th July 1807, Ventura de la Vega was amongst the most important Spanish playwrights of his time. He learnt his craft from the well-respected Hermosilla and Lista, and early on served as Secretary and literary mentor to the young Queen Isabel II. At the age of 31 he married a leading opera singer, Manuela de Oreiro y Lema, who propelled him into the world of musical theatre - then at a low ebb as far as the native product was concerned.
Like other writers of the time, he made his first mark in the translation and adaptation of French plays, about 80 in total, although his versions were often more radical and adventurous than the norm. He helped found a Poetry Academy in 1834, becoming a leading light on its short-lived romantic journal El Siglo ("The Century") which lasted only a few months before censorship closed it down. Its successor El Artista, Spain's first illustrated magazine (1835), lasted longer, appearing on a regular Sunday basis for many years.
His best straight plays are probably El hombre de mundo (1845), Don Fernando de Antequera and the tragedy La muerte de Cesar, all of which are still occasionally revived today. The best of his many opera texts exhibit the same qualities of comic zest, sharp characterisation and elegant structure. Jugar con fuego (with Barbieri, 1851, after a French original) was a watershed, effectively marking the birth of the romantic zarzuela. It still features regularly in the repertoire.
He often wrote with Barbieri, and their later successes included La cisterna encantada (1853); El marqués de Caravaca (1853, a sequel to Jugar con fuego)and Un tesoro escondido (1861). With Gaztambide he wrote El estreno de un artista (1852) as well as significant texts for Arrieta and Oudrid. Later adaptations of his work included Cambios naturales (1899), by Rubío and Lleó.
In addition to his writing gifts, he was an effective actor and lecturer, with a gift for comedy which doubtless helped his libretti make their mark at frequent fund-raising readings. He became a member of the Spanish Language Academy in 1845, and died in Madrid, 29th November 1865.
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