Sorozabal Censored (a contemporary poster)


a report from

Otazo Alza

Spanish troubles old and new ...

Nowadays we often smile about Censorship as a senseless historic relic, but we should know better. After all, we live in a country where Premier Aznar has defined for us the Goodies and Baddies of world politics - not to mention the way in which, after defining ETA as Local Baddies (which is obviously correct) he has proceeded to treat all us Basques as Friends of Baddies. Being such a professional Premier, he has legally pronounced certain actions against all these Baddies, such as going to war, banning political parties and shutting down newspapers. So, in a time where Constitutional Rights are being trimmed back in the name of National Security, it may be healthy to keep the memory green of what Censorship actually means. That, surely, is one of our basic duties to our past.

Last Monday I went to ERESBIL, the music documentation centre in Rentería, where I chanced on an old and astonishing vocal score of Pablo Sorozábal's La tabernera del puerto (at whose premiere Sorozábal was forbidden to direct his orchestra, and where a paid claque made as much noise as they could - though much less than they needed, for its success was huge). Clear as the printed score had once been, it had been copiously overwritten with a heavy pen and ... censored. There wasn't a corresponding version of the spoken libretto, but it was obvious from what I saw that the changes must have been enormous. In the musical portions alone, it was scarcely credible.

In Act I, the Introducción is intact, but the habanera-terceto for Equía and his friends ("Bajo otros soles") has several changes to the text, notably concerning the original references to the black women who used to sleep with the three men. "Ven aquí camastrón" needed changes, as it was no longer a duet for Antigua and Chinchorro, but for this latter and ... Simpson - you see, drunk women were not allowed on the stage.

Two significant alterations are made to the story. First of all, Juan de Eguía and Leandro become brothers - with a rocky relationship, because Eguía is an evil smuggler and Leandro the hero who wants his brother to change his way of life. Second, the attraction felt by all the men for Marola does not exist. Her position in the story is not very clear, but she could have been the sister of the two men; at any rate the charming duet between her and Leandro, "Marinero, vete a la mar", becomes a challenge-number between him and ... Juan de Eguía. The nonsense of combining a roughhouse text with such lyrical love music, though a scary example of the work of our happily defunct Censorship, is actually quite funny. For example, the wonderful chromatic musical phrase "Tengo los ojos radiantes porque los miras al sol" (my eyes are sparkling because they reflect the sun) becomes "¿Tengo los ojos manchados? Turbios como de ladrón" (are my eyes stained? Yes, dirty as a thief's). Act I Final is slightly changed, to make sure Marola avoids speaking about husbands, but Eguía's ill-treatment of her remains.

In Act II, things get even worse. "Eres blanca y hermosa como tu madre" (you're as pale and lovely as your mother), is in fact a popular Spanish song whose text Sorozábal's librettists subtly changed. Here it is rewritten - you see, men cannot address pretty compliments to Marola. So is her song "En un país de fábula" - too seductive, and so purloined by Leandro and turned into a Prayer to the Virgin!

The hypersexist "La mujer de los quince a los veinte" is unannotated, but Eguía "borrows" the great Tango "Despierta negro" from Simpson, with an altered text - he appears to be talking to himself after having been challenged by someone. Did Eguía sing both songs or was the Tango given to him for losing the other? We'll never know. The racconto "Yo soy de un puerto lejano" isn't altered, but what it tells doesn't relate to this version of the zarzuela at all, which is why I think that it wasn't performed."No puede ser", Leandro's desperate reflection that he can't believe the woman he loves is a liar, is also rewritten, to avoid the unpleasantness of the tenor talking about being in love with Marola.

The comedy trio for Marola and two of her admirers, "Marola resuena en el oído", becomes a dialogue between Leandro and the Sailors' Chorus, in which they accuse him of being as viciously mendacious as Verdier, Simpson and Eguía. Finally, the Act 2 Final presumably wasn't performed, because it would have needed too many changes. None were made in the score, not even to the words "Si supieras, Juan de Eguía, que yo sé que no es tu amante" (If only you knew, Juan de Eguía, that I know she's not your lover) or "Para morirme tranquilo de que mañana, por hambre, no te consiga un pirata como logré yo a tu madre" (So that I can die certain that, someday, hungry, you won't be taken by a pirate, as I took your mother).

La tabernera del puerto

Being much shorter, Act 3 doesn't have many changes - though Eguía's "No, no te acerques" avoids the word "padre" as in this version Marola was not his daughter. And as he talks only about Leandro I'd guess the love scene on the boat was also cut.

I wonder how many people still remember this version of the zarzuela being performed? My generation, people for whom Censorship is just an old story about how our parents had to cross the French frontier to watch Last Tango in Paris, are now starting to get a first hand appreciation of the historic meaning of the lack of Freedom of Speech under Franco. On the other hand, a lot of young people want us to forget Franco, the sooner the better - especially those of them who voted in our adorable Iraqi-hunting Premier.

DVDs are very instructive, because as the original versions are provided on the disc with the dubbed Spanish version, the shame of the old dubbings appear naked to the world. For instance, in Gone with the Wind Gable's "Are you pregnant? And who's the father?" became "Are you pregnant? Bad news", and the famous line "I don't give a damn" became "I don't care". In The Sound of Music (where the singing nuns were mostly cut as disrespectful), Christopher Plummer gets a telegram asking him to join the Nazis in Bremerhaven. "Joining them would be ... unthinkable!", he says; but in Spanish we got "I don't want to leave you alone". Franco's censors naturally didn't want to be too hard on the Nazis ...

The height of nonsense, the Censorship's greatest mistake which was so absurd and stupid that it is still remembered, came in Mogambo, where Grace Kelly's husband was changed into her brother so that she was not committing a terrible sin by falling in love with Clark Gable ... precisely what she was doing when kissing and talking to her supposed brother in the way she did. To avoid adultery, she had to commit incest!

The struggle to bypass the Censors brought out the imaginative best in Spanish artists. One of the best goals scored was Bienvenido Mr Marshall, Luis García Berlanga's 1952 film, where a poor village after the Spanish Civil War disguises itself as the perfect Spanish-picture-postcard to charm the Americans who are giving economic help through the Marshall Plan. When the Americans finally arrive, they don't even stop their cars in the village. Incomprehensibly, the Censors didn't notice how tongue-in-cheek the plot was, and as they failed to find any sex scenes in it the film got through without a problem. It won a prize at Cannes, and was so brave that French critics started to wonder if there really was any Censorship in Spain after all - sure there was, but not very bright on this occasion!

After that, Berlanga's work had enormous trouble getting into the cinema. Take his masterpiece, Plácido - the name of the main character, imposed by the Censors because they didn't like "¡Siente un pobre a su mesa!" (Seat a poor man at your table), Berlanga's own title. It's Christmas Eve, and people organize a bizarre auction where people bid for poor people - to take home and give lunch. Despite being almost as poor as the others, Plácido helps with the organisation, but nobody will help him with the down payment on the car he has bought to help them ... too uncomfortable a plot for the comfortable Spanish middle-class, it could only be shown once it was disguised as a comedy, full of Wilder-like jokes and endless, farcical misunderstandings.

We may laugh now, but at root we're talking about a fearsomely strong way of controlling society's opinions, where neither La Tabernera del Puerto(!) nor The Sound of Music(!!!) were free from suspicion. Sorozábal himself dared to record the original 'immoral' version of his zarzuela not once, not twice, but three times under Franco. My little story reveals something about his street-fighting pugnacity, more about the thunder cloud under which our parents laboured.

I'd have loved all this to be just a reflection on our past, but I fear that reports like this are still necessary today. The State seems intent on behaving as an enemy to Freedom of speech and information - Spanish National TV was recently condemned by a judge for "manipulating" information about a general strike against the Government's interests, but sentenced has not yet been meted out. So I am content to let this tale stand as a warning, as once again the storm clouds of Censorship rumble threateningly on the Spanish horizon.

© Eñaut Otazo Alza 2003

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[La tabernera del puerto - synopsis and notes]