En torno a la edición crítica de Margarita la tornera de Ruperto Chapí / About the critical edition of "Margarita la tornera" by Ruperto Chapí

Article published in the book-program of the premiere at the Teatro Real (Madrid, December 11, 1999)


In my opinion, an opera house at the end of the 20th century must meet at least three requirements to justify its existence and the enormous expense that its maintenance entails. Said requirements are the following: a) pay attention to the most representative titles of the repertoire (without these titles having to be programmed with an excessive frequency nor monopolize the programming for itself, which would be detrimental to the two remaining requirements; b) encourage contemporary operatic creation, both with commissions for its own productions, and through the importation of operas commissioned by other theaters (with which a policy of co-productions would be fostered that would allow a greater diffusion of the new operas and would make the astronomical cost of the productions less burdensome); and c) discover or replace works that have not passed into the conventional repertoire, without reason being found for it in their intrinsic quality.
With the very near premiere of Don Quixote by Cristóbal Halffter, and with this revival of Margarita la tornera, Madrid Royal Theater is embarking on two high-profile productions that will meet the last two aforementioned requirements this season, and although this is scant when compared to the weight that the traditional repertoire has in the current season's programming, it is better that little to nothing that, unfortunately for us, we cannot get used to those of us who believe that the great evil of the century that is ending has been that of the excessive cultivation of the past to extremes that have led to the Olympian contempt for the present. In any case, with the premiere of this production of Margarita la tornera we are all in luck, since although the epigraph of "contemporary opera" is hardly applicable to it, this is not so much because of its style and its melodic or harmonic language, but because after its premiere in 1909, in this same theater and under the musical direction of the composer himself, it never set foot on stage again. It has therefore disappeared from the collective memory of our society, and as happens with so many works that sleep the bitter sleep of unfair oblivion, I hoped that an individual or, as in this case, an institutional initiative, would bring it out of its lethargy.
And although the reasons derived from the high economic cost of setting up a production like this to consider its appropriateness by those responsible for programming an opera house are as defensible as justifiable, they are neither one thing nor the other those that can be wielded so as not to ensure that all that repertoire that rests on library shelves is, if not the light of the footlights, then at least a glimpse of the future through its discographic or radio recording (which would be perfectly acceptable for our main public broadcaster, if it dedicated to culture a minimal part of the budget that its television facet currently dedicates to the opposite). This, together with the very high quality of reproduction achieved today, even by the most modest sound equipment, would serve to make available to anyone who had a minimum of interest what until now was only reserved for specialized researchers and other duly curious qualified for internal audition or piano reading of scores, not easily accessible, on the other hand.
I have spent the last three years of my life between two operas: this one by Ruperto Chapí, which has provided me with equal parts wonderful moments and inevitable last-minute accelerations, and one of my own, whose premiere will take place, if everything goes as planned, in October next year, at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona. Mainly for this last reason, I consider myself somewhat qualified to provide the reader of these lines with first-hand information on some impressions that, without a doubt, are similar to those that Chapí must have experienced during the months invested in the composition of Margarita la tornera.
That the difficulty of musical composition in general rises to the highest degree in the case of an opera is not at all strange, because what in a chamber or symphonic work falls within the complete domain of the author and of his better or worse -but unique- task, is shared, in the case of opera, between the composer and the author of the libretto, first, and by those in charge of its musical interpretation and staging, later. In short, the world of opera is so complex that, once committed to its composition, there is no falling back: the step involves the setting in motion of so many devices that there is no room for regret, and that leap forward with the void at your feet leaves the classic "vertigo" before the composer's blank paper in a simple insubstantial and irrelevant frivolity.
The opera is a cooperative creation, a compound movement -forgive the physical term-, resulting from forces that act in different directions, if not opposite. And although it is clear that, in the long run, the opera belongs more to the musician than to all those who took part in its gestation and premiere -librettist included-, that is not the feeling that the composer has while he writes it. Rather, it seems to him that his work belongs to everyone but him, as unreliable as the forecasts and predictions that can be made about the final result: therein lies the profound difference, for the composer, between the opera and the exclusively musical genres.
If to this is added the scarce, if not null, confidence in the viability of future performances beyond those that correspond to the season of its premiere, it is to be assumed that it is understandable that opera is not, precisely, a genre that the composer goes out of his way to cultivate. And yet it holds for him a far greater fascination than any other usual field. Rare is the composer who has not written one or, at least, has been tempted to do so at some time. From the one who spends his entire existence waiting for the ideal libretto, to the one who risks being his own librettist, the opera constitutes for all the "no more" of the creative task.

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For those who don't know more about Chapí than his splendid zarzuelas, this Margarita la tornera that is recovered with this production will undoubtedly be surprising. This will not be the case, of course, for those who do not ignore the other creative facet of the composer, less well-known, but no less important and, in any case, much more transcendent: the one that looks towards the European aesthetics of the moment and is not alien, therefore, to the Italian, French and German influences in his music both on stage and in concert. Chapí's catalog is eloquent enough in this regard, and the reasons why critics and the public may have turned their backs on that part of his catalog will never be completely understandable. Could it be that the local composers of that generation are not forgiven for a departure, even momentary, from nationalism, in search of an Europeism of little prestige among us?
In this sense, Margarita la tornera is a clearly Europeist opera, in which it is not difficult to recognize resonances of, for example, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, to cite a title especially loved and admired by Spanish musicians around 1900, and to which a good part of the scenic and musical treatment (in its melodic, harmonic and orchestral aspects) of the work of our main operists is indebted. In this way, and except for the second act, the most Spanish, musically speaking, of the three (which is forced by the dramatic situation, developed in such picturesque settings -"El Corral de la Pacheca" and "El Casón de los Duendes"- which make the absence of non-Spanish rhythms and turns unthinkable), the music of the remaining two is so decidedly European that the brief sequence based on Andalusian harmonic and melodic procedures that is inserted in the third frame of the 1st act confers to that moment a character more of syntactic solecism than smoothness of continuity.
Due to all of the above, it should not be surprising that the orchestra used by Chapí acquired unusual proportions among the zarzuelistas of the time, forced, due to practical needs, to use small orchestras: four woodwinds (including piccolo, English horn, piccolo clarinet, bass clarinet and a sarrusophone, an instrument in disuse today, and since it was the predecessor of the contrabassoon of the current symphony orchestra, it has been replaced by this instrument in the critical edition), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 harps, abundant percussion and an extensive string section (dealt with in frequent divisi, especially in the 3rd act, in which through this procedure and combinations of harmonics Chapí seeks mystical and celestial sonorities that are difficult to achieve in any other way), to which in the 2nd act is added a small ensemble of plucked instruments. Added to this is the choir, whose main intervention is located in the 2nd act, and a group of vocal soloists made up of two female and three male voices, of which the roles assigned to the characters of Margarita (dramatic soprano) and Don Juan de Alarcón (tenor) require a quasi-Wagnerian resistance (apart from the distances of length: Margarita la tornera does not exceed -without cuts- two and a half hours) on the part of the singers.
With respect to all this, the critical edition for which I am responsible has respected the original manuscript in its entirety, with the exception of an irrelevant handful of obvious errors and omissions made by Chapí (almost always coinciding with a page turn) that have been promptly detected and conveniently corrected. This, and the decision about some doubtful passages in terms of some minor harmonic aspect, have been the only points that have required critical intervention. Because, indisputably, Ruperto Chapí was a great composer, and a great composer does not need anyone to come and amend his work, nor should anyone dare to do so. To the greater happiness of this humble reviewer, Margarita la tornera had a splendid reduction for voice and piano due to the pen of V. Zurrón, already published in facsimile by the ICCMU, in which only some small differences with respect to the handwritten, the majority in some phrases of the sung text, and of which will be duly warned in the critical commentary that will accompany the next edition of the score.
Chapí, like almost all the good composers of the moment, is not only a musician of great melodic inventiveness. In Margarita la Tornera we can see a great mastery of harmony and counterpoint, whose treatment we find in the 3rd scene of the 1st act one of the most successful examples of Spanish music of that time, in which the close imitation of a fragment melody between the soprano and the orchestra is agglutinated by a very interesting modulating process, which gives the passage an enormous expressive force, in keeping with the anxiety and doubts of the protagonist before the decision to flee the convent to abandon herself to Don Juan's seduction.
In addition, Chapí is a magnificent orchestrator, which in this opera he has the opportunity to demonstrate, both in the superb and spectacular sonorities with which some scenic situations are underlined, as well as in the wise proportioning of the orchestral ensemble when it must limit itself to accompanying and sustaining the singing without hindering it.
For all these reasons, the critical work has been reduced to a minimum in the aforementioned aspects, and has concentrated on the level of dynamics and articulations (nuances, accents, regulators, etc.), which, for reasons that are difficult for us today to understand, was generally largely neglected by composers of all ages until well into the 20th century, and that is absolutely fundamental today, both from the point of view of the composer and of the performer, and that, in the case of an orchestral work, requires careful notation and planning, which are conspicuous by their absence in the original score and which have been painstakingly worked on in the critical edition.
This general neglect of what today is an important aspect of composition runs in parallel, also well into our century, with another no less significant one: the poor literary quality of the librettos used by composers for their operas, which is paradoxical, when compared to the normally very high quality of the music composed for them. Inexplicably for today's professional and amateur, the collaboration of our great composers from the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century with supposedly great firms of our dramatic literature throws up a balance clearly tilted in favor of the former: think of the weakness of the libretti by Gregorio Martínez Sierra for Jardín de Oriente by Turina or Las golondrinas by Usandizaga, as well as that of Carlos F. Shaw for La vida breve by Falla or this Margarita la tornera by Chapí, and compare with the very special care with which today's rare composer who approaches opera chooses his literary collaborator (such as the binomials Vicente Molina Foix/Luis de Pablo, José Ángel Valente/Mauricio Sotelo, Francisco Nieva/Antón García Abril, and my own with Justo Navarro), and it will be verified how in the second half of our century a great effort has been made to correct this disastrous imbalance. Because, of course, one thing is the plot and its greater or lesser "hook", and quite another its mise en drama. The insubstantiality of the scenic situations means that all the specific weight of the viewer's interest falls on the score, which, in the case at hand -as in many others of the time-, makes up with its specific qualities for the usual deficiencies of the same in the librettos used.
Lastly, I would like to make it very clear to the reader of these lines that my contribution to this recovery of Margarita la tornera is limited exclusively to the critical edition and all that this entails, including the revision of the orchestral material and its preparation for the interpretation. In no way should other decisions regarding the suppression of some fragments in this production be imputed to me, advised for scenic reasons to which I have been and I am totally oblivious. Chapí's score will soon see the edition that I have prepared in its entirety, although accompanied by the aforementioned contributions that, without altering in any way either its spirit or its lyrics, I hope will contribute to its better interpretation and, with it, to the diffusion it deserves.


Related writing:

Introducción a la edición crítica de Margarita la Tornera de Ruperto Chapí / Introduction to the critical edition of "Margarita la Tornera" by Ruperto Chapí
Study published in the edition of the score of the opera of that title by the ICCMU. Madrid, November 2000


Press release published in the newspaper ABC (Madrid, December 2, 1999)

Press release published in the newspaper El País (Madrid, December 10, 1999)

Press release published in the newspaper El País (Madrid, December 11, 1999)

Diffusion of the CD of the Teatro Real label