El año pasado por agua

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated November 20th 2001

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El año pasado por agua
by Federico Chueca and Joaquín Valverde
libretto by Ricardo de la Vega

® recommended recording

1888 had been a wet year in Madrid. So wet in fact, that the circumstance gave rise to a sparkling follow-up to Chueca and Valverde's highly successful revista La Gran Vía. Ricardo de la Vega was to go on to write the epochal La verbena de la Paloma with Bretón, and his deft little revue was no less brilliantly observed. Though municipal indolence is still with us, many satirical targets of this water-drenched revue have sunk beneath the waves of time. El año pasado por agua ('Last Year Under Water', March 1st 1889, Teatro Apolo) survives through Chueca's diamond of a score, with its parade of dance forms, local, regional and international; and a host of catchy tunes, not least the evergreen 'Umbrella Mazurka', one of the Granny's Favourites of the repertoire.

Fountain of Neptune - Madrid
Neptune, the "villain of the piece"

Scene 1 - After a brief orchestral Introducción, the curtain rises to reveal a Madrid street. It is pouring with rain, and the soaked crowd of madrileños sing a popular rhyme about the tiresome inevitability of the wet weather (Coro: "Que llueva, que llueva".)

El ano pasado por agua - Vocal Score

The famous actor-singer Julio Ruiz enters as himself, escorting a fashionable modiste. Both carry umbrellas, and his suggestion that they share one between them to go off for lunch and whatever comes after is accepted by the lady - on condition that Julio pays! The flirtatious 'Umbrella Mazurka' (Mazurka de los paraguas: "Hágame usté el favor de oirme dos palabras") swiftly became the most popular number in the revista, and retains all its wit and charm today.

An actor representing the New Year 1889 enters in conversation with Mariano, a city policeman. 1889 wonders why his predecessor left Madrid in such a shocking state, and Mariano explains that 1888 was truly "El año pasado por agua" ('Last year under water') as he will happily demonstrate ...

Scene 2 - A flooded quarter of Madrid. The crowd hail 1889, hoping that he will be drier than his older brother, and that the municipal authorities will manage him rather better. The familiar figure of Neptune appears in his impressive chariot, escaped from his stone fountain near the Prado Museum and wearing a fashionable brown suit. To an infectious waltz tune he glories in the new freedom available to him in the flooded streets, though the crowd reflects that there are some dangerous fish in Madrid who would scare even the Ruler of the Waves (Vals de Neptuno: "De los mares rey me llaman".)

1889 and Neptune are joined, in a dialogue heavy with contemporary social and political satire, by allegorical representatives of various leading newspapers. Eventually Neptune agrees to solve all their problems at a dance he will give that night for the Ministers of the Crown. A procession arrives from the bullring, singing a joyous Pasacalle in praise of the various quarters of the city (Coro: "¡Aquí viene la flor de Maravillas!") The crowd is joined by a Madrileño gentleman, and La Menegilda (servant girl) from La Gran Vía. In a sensuous Habanera she tells Neptune and his friends how the different quarters of Madrid contributed to the development of her dubious career, which has culminated in the post of mistress to a pallid, rich Englishman (Habanera: "Oiga usté, caballero".)

A gondola floats on, in which are seated the lead tenor and soprano from Carrión and Chapí's La bruja. They throw off their costumes and are revealed as allegorical representations of an Emigrant and the Republic respectively. In a delectable parody of Carrión's verse, the couple regret their need for parting, watched by a chorus of constables and the Inquisitor from the 1887 zarzuela (Zortzico: "¡Ay, niña de mis ojos!"). The Inquisitor bewails the threat that Emigration brings to the Republic, and exhorts the constables to catch and imprison the felon in a lugubrious Chotis: "¡Ay de mi! Qué cruel situación!". Eventually the Emigrant and The Republic float off happily together in their gondola, to the despair of the cleric and constabulary.

Scenes 3 & 4 - At the Liceo Ríus, three Municipal Guards bewail the fact their policemen's lot is not a happy one (Polka: "¡Traemos los cuerpos trunzaus!";) and a chulo and chula - Madrid teenagers - indulge in a love scene exposing the intellectual poverty of the city. A final tableau presents a decorative frieze extolling the successful Universal Exposition of Barcelona in 1888, as all hail Neptune and the New Year 1889 in a final grand apotheosis.

song texts

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