El caserío

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated January 5th 2002

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El caserío
by Jesús Guridi
libretto by Federico Romero & Guillermo Fernández Shaw

® recommended recording

El caserío exemplifies one of the most paradoxical strengths of the zarzuela tradition - its indifference to musical modernism. Though first heard as late as 1926 (11th November, Madrid's Teatro de la Zarzuela) the sound world of this comedia lírica draws more on Dvorak than on the jazz-influenced twenties. Given that the Basque Guridi was inspired just as surely as his Czech precursor by passionate devotion to his country, this is hardly surprising. Yet El caserío, for all its musical conservatism, is an remarkable expression of the Basque spirit and way of life. Its authentic quality was recognised immediately, not least by Joaquín Turina, who praised Guridi's success in 'singing the soul of his homeland, without recourse to foxtrots and charlestons' ('El Debate'.) Instead, we have the native Basque dances - zortzico and espatadantza.

Ana Mari & José Miguel
Mary Francis and José Moreno
in Juan de Orduña's 1969 film

Romero and Shaw provided a text as well-tailored to Guridi's musical style as their Doña Francisquita had been for Vives, with a love interest as sensitively balanced as their Luisa Fernanda was to be for Torroba. The crucial relationship of El caserío is not between the young lovers, but between the ageing landowner Santi and his niece, Ana Mari. Santi has something of the gentle, self-sacrificing wisdom of Wagner's Hans Sachs, and an equally fervent belief in his country - its rules and duties as well as its attractions. Little wonder that Guridi responded to the character with music of heartfelt nobility and delicacy. The musical progress of Ana Mari and her beloved José Miguel is subtly marked, the festivities of town and country are depicted in distinctive melody and quietly assertive orchestral colours. Close study of El caserío reveals the work as a near masterpiece of understated passion, personal and national.

Act 1 takes place in Sasibill, Santi's caserío ('country homestead') close to the picturesque Basque town of Arrigorri. Santi's tragedy was to be secretly in love with a beautiful woman, and never to tell her. When she accepted one of his two brothers, he left the caserío in despair, seeking fame and fortune in America. The death of his brothers led to the dilapidation of the caserío, but now Santi has returned and restored his home to its former beauty and importance. He has also overseen the bringing-up of his niece and nephew, the cousins Ana Mari and José Miguel; and their uncle's dream is that these two will marry, safeguarding Sasibill's future - although he feels a special affection for his niece, an angelic young woman who is the very image of her mother, Marichu, Santi's long-dead sweetheart. José Miguel, on the other hand - confident of his inheritance - is an arrogant spendthrift, more interested in pursuing his career as a pelota player than settling down to his family duty.

After a pastoral Preludio with offstage voices, the returning farmworkers look forward to the coming Fiesta (Coro: "Nochesita de estrellas".) Eustacia, housekeeper of Sasibill, dragoons them all back to work - including her stupid daughter Inosensia and the equally brainless young handyman Chomin, who is smitten with Ana Mari. José Miguel, strolling in from one of his customary absences, flirts pleasantly with his cousin, who berates him for upsetting their uncle by leading such a loose existence. José Miguel counters that he wants to enjoy his youth and freedom by playing the field - words that Ana Mari, who is deeply in love with him, least wants to hear (Dúo: "Buenos días".) With Eustacia and his cousin well out of the way, José Miguel joins Chomin, Eustacia's husband Manu and the local Alcalde -or Mayor - in an all-out assault on the reserved communion wine (Cuarteto: "Con el trébole".)

Santi pensively considers this fresh evidence of José Miguel's fecklessness, expressing his deep affection for the caserío and love for the lost Marichu in a lovely Romanza: "Sasibill mi caserío", mainly in unusual 5/4 zortzico rhythm. He shares his concern with a friend, Don Leoncio the village Curé, who makes a Machiavellian suggestion - Santi should announce his intention to marry. Once José Miguel thinks he will lose his inheritance, he will either see the error of his ways and reform, or leave the district for good - clearing the way for Ana Mari to take sole responsibility for the caserío. Chomin gets wind of this and tells José Miguel, who storms furiously off the property. In the first Final, Santi announces his intentions, much to the joy of everyone - except Ana Mari, who well understands what this means to her beloved José Miguel.

Act 2 - The town of Arrigori. The Fiesta is in progress (Preludio y danza - zortzico and other dance rhythms). Pelota players from the town and its rivals cross the stage, singing a popular Basque song (Escena: "Pello Joshepe"). José Miguel has returned to take part in the game, and confides to Ana Mari that he has changed his plan. He will pretend to welcome Santi's idea, and then seduce this fiancée, whoever she might be. The disgusted Ana Mari tells him that all he cares for is money, and leaves. José Miguel, seriously impressed, wonders what exactly he sees in his cousin (Romanza: "Yo no sé que veo en Ana Mari".)

A religious procession passes, to be followed by a vigorous and angular dance (Procesion y Espatadantza: "Reina del cielo"). Ana Mari, fearing for the future of the caserío and still furious with José Miguel, offers to marry Santi herself. Deeply moved, Santi neither accepts nor completely rejects her offer, confiding both his gratitude to her and his devotion to her dead mother, in the fine Dúo: "Con alegría inmensa." Some of this is overheard by the desolated Chomin, who wastes no time in getting the news to José Miguel. The young man's confidence is shaken, but he boasts arrogantly of his ability to win back Ana Mari from his uncle, though Chomin still fancies his own chances (Canción de los Versolaris: "Chiquito de Arrigorri".) Inosensia, meanwhile, has other plans for the handyman. The Final begins with a public declaration of the possible betrothal of Santi and his niece. José Miguel now fully realises the depth of his feeling for Ana Mari. After a heartfelt outburst ("Dime al oído") he is rejected by her and leaves, cruelly wounded, as the townsfolk celebrate Santi's apparent good fortune.

Act 3 - The caserío, some months later. After a brief presto Preludio the farmworkers celebrate the Harvest Home in a lusty chorus (Coro: "Mientras llueve sin cesar"), before Ana Mari sings a song for them which contains a covert reference to her own unhappiness (Coro y Relato: "En la cumbre del monte".) Santi is still uncommitted one way or the other, and Ana Mari herself still clearly loves José Miguel. Meanwhile Eustacia takes advantage of the uncertainty by teaching Inosensia how to ensnare Santi herself. She is not so brainless as she looks, and follows her mother's instructions to the letter to seduce - not Santi, but the far from unwilling Chomin - into a proposal of marriage (Dúo Cómico: "Dise mi madre, Chomin".)

Santi reveals to Ana Mari that he has been keeping back the letters which José Miguel has been sending to her, to test the strength of her cousin's feelings and in hope that he will come to claim her in person. Resigned to the failure of his ploy, Santi has decided to marry his niece after all, and Ana Mari sadly accepts the situation - just before José Miguel rushes in to throw himself on his uncle's mercy. He cannot bear to lose the woman he loves, and will renounce his inheritance completely if his uncle will agree to release her. Santi, finally convinced of José Miguel's sincerity, agrees readily to unite him to Ana Mari if she wishes it (Dúo y Terceto Final: "Yo no sabía".) The young lovers are finally united, Santi rejoices that the future of his beloved caserío is now assured and the zarzuela ends with general celebrations.

song texts

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