La ópera española como problema / Spanish opera as a problem

Article published in the Cultural supplement of the newspaper ABC. Madrid, December 4, 1999


With the revival, 90 years after its premiere on the same stage that now hosts it with all honours, of Margarita la Tornera, the Teatro Real makes the 2000 effect its own, in its own way, by moving us back to the same debate, lively at times and bitter at others, which Ruperto Chapí and the then leaders of the Madrid Coliseum argued in the capital's press in the early years of the 20th century.
It is true that times have changed a lot since then, and that the prevailing Italianism at the beginning of the century has been replaced by a greater balance in terms of the nationality of the composers, but it remains unresolved the thorny issue of Spanish opera, in which Chapí and the rest of the composers of his generation firmly believed, as a way as legitimate as it is logical to affirm the creative force of the country's stage music, which, under the Italian, German and, to a lesser extent, French pressure, was relegated to the cultivation of the small genre and, in the best of cases, to that of the large zarzuela.
However, the attempts to create the genre, nourishing it with a handful of titles that could give rise to a recurrent and exportable repertoire -and of which, without a doubt, Margarita la Tornera stands out in a prominent place, if not the first-, failed noisily, crashing over and over against the insurmountable wall of the Italianate taste of the public and the impresarios of the time.
The current situation is not very different as far as Spanish opera is concerned, as it occupies a minimal part of a program afflicted by an inferiority complex as chronic as it isunjustified, which, although it has fled from the exclusively Italian repertoire, has done so to fall dragged by the gravitational force of that black hole that is the reduced set of the most hackneyed titles of the usual repertoire, among which the few new or little cultivated operas that are sporadically interspersed are considered upstarts and, therefore, viewed with mistrust, thereby generating a Moebius strip that is as delirious as it is unsustainable, a sophisticated version of the traditional haddock that bites its own tail.
In this context, the recovery by the Complutense Institute of Musical Sciences (ICCMU) of the score of Margarita la Tornera, through an edition that I have had the fortune to review and coordinate, as well as its stage replacement with the best performers and media, should serve not only as a reparation for a historical injustice -that of its unjustified neglect, especially when the great success it achieved at its premiere is evident-, but also as a tribute to the combative attitude of a whole generation of composers who fought unsuccessfully for making their voices heard in a society that seemed to have no interest in listening to them. Exactly the same as now.
Hopefully the battle then lost will be won posthumously in this premiere and Margarita la Tornera will enjoy the general recognition she deserves in the future. It would be the best demonstration that those composers were right, and that there is a Spanish opera that can and should be programmed, as well as proving the reason for the already many current composers who, with our operatic creative work, continue to believe in it with the same faith.