La fiesta de San Antón

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated January 28th 2002

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La fiesta de San Antón
by Tomás Lopez Torregrosa
libretto by Carlos Arniches

® recommended recording

The later and more substantial of the two 1898 collaborations between writer and composer was premiered at Madrid's Teatro Apolo on 25th November 1898. Arniches' sainete more focussed on the darker side of Madrid life and loves than El santo de la Isidra. His characters are strongly drawn, his dialogue fluid and amusing. The sentimentally implausible conclusion, in which a concussion brings the hero back to his moral senses, is its only real blemish.

Torregrosa's music only covers the first of the three scenes, but his four numbers are of high quality. The galloping rhythms which bind the Preludio - itself based on the main theme of the flamboyant Dúo for Felipa and Antonio - make clever allusion to the hero's trade and horsey nemesis. The street scene which follows is a lively example of that typical género chico mixture of spoken dialogue and arioso song.

La fiesta de San Anton - Vocal Score cover

Most remarkable is the highly operatic scene centred on Regina which closes Torregrosa's contribution. The inspired, major key string melody which accompanies her expression of sadness is never sung by the soprano, who provides an effective arioso accompaniment to the primary orchestral material - a rarely beautiful Spanish example of a technique associated with Puccini. The intensity is if anything enhanced by the intrusive offstage Soleares with its guitar accompaniment. Although what follows is more conventional, it remains Torregrosa's finest achievement, one of the most striking scenes in Spanish stage music of its epoch.

Scene 1 - A downtown Madrid street. Antonio Olmedo, a handsome saddler and favourite with the girls, is dismounting from his horse outside his house. Assorted locals are enjoying a drink and watching the world go by ... a passing fortune teller with his birds, some bargaining at a fruit stall ... a pot boy brings drinks and the Falstaffian Señor Ramón complains to Antonio about short measure (Escena: "Paco, dile el chico".)

Antonio treats his companions to drinks and cigars; but when he has left one of them, the pessimistic Eusebio, talks critically to a jolly fellow known as El Pintao ('blotchy-faced') about the handsome saddler. It is rumoured that Antonio has been two-timing his faithful girlfriend Regina, the only woman in Eusebio's eyes who can really make him happy, with an icily handsome bar girl called Felipa. El Pintao speaks up for Antonio, emphasising his essentially decency. The pair listen in the shadows when Antonio returns with Señor Ramón. He asks the cynical old man for advice on what to tell Regina, now he no longer wants her. Left alone, he admits that his feelings aren't quite so simple, and curses his uncertainty before heading off into the bar after Ramón.

Eusebio's wife Genara comes in with her husband's lunch. She tells him and El Pintao of a distressing encounter she has witnessed between Regina and Felipa with her calculating mother Leoncia. After physically separating the women she advised Regina to have it out with Antonio and Felipa next day; but in the cold light of day Genara feels that this could lead to serious trouble.

Eusebio unwillingly agrees to reason with Antonio; but the saddler refuses to hear Eusebio's faltering objections and goes into his house. Genera sees Felipa and her mother coming and sees red, but Eusebio drags her away before she can do any more damage. Felipa tells Ramón and her approving mother that she doesn't really care one way or the other about the well-heeled Antonio, but might as well have him as not. When the saddler joins them, Leoncia and the duplicitous Ramón, who sees Antonio as an easy touch, leave the lovers alone. Felipa wants Antonio to meet her in her bar the following day, the fiesta of Saint Anthony, in order to let Regina know exactly how things stand. He equivocates, but ends up agreeing to her request (Dúo: "¿Qué es lo que te pasa?".)

Regina appears. Eusebio advises her to accept the situation, but she remains determined to speak with Antonio. In a scene of operatic intensity, Regina prepares to face the worst (Escena: "¡Ay, que me encuentro más triste".) She hears Antonio strumming his guitar and singing a Soleares to entertain his new friends, but though the song is like a dagger in her heart, she stays firm in her resolve. A housemaid alerts the inmates to her presence and silence reigns for a moment. Then Felipa comes outside and the inevitable heated exchanges which follow attract a crowd into the street. Regina cries out to Antonio, who tells her firmly that he no longer loves her. The crowd melts away, leaving Regina lonely, with the renewed sound of Antonio's guitar song inside the house ringing in her ears.

Scene 2 - A Madrid street the following day. In a verbal interlude two low-lifes, El Tulipa and El Mangas, discuss the news. Can it really be true that Felipa has hooked the wealthy saddler? Yes, because the indigent Señor Ramón has confirmed it and could do well by setting up the match. They hurry to the bar to see for themselves.

Scene 3 - Felipa's bar. To the sounds of a honky-tonk pianola, the customers led by the riotous Señor Ramón and Leoncia are celebrating the fiesta. Tulipa and Mangas arrive, but Ramón warns them to stay away until Antonio has committed himself. The saddler arrives and treats everyone to drinks, but before he can toast Felipa the crowd parts and Regina interposes. The two women fight like tigresses until Eusebio and Genara manage to separate them, and the despairing Antonio finally takes to his horse and gallops off.

There is a sudden commotion: the horse has thrown its rider, and soon Antonio is carried back apparently more dead than alive. After an apothecary administers first aid and affirms that his injuries are slight, Antonio opens his eyes. He realises that he cannot bear to lose Regina, and wishes Felipa good luck and goodbye. She coldly turns her back and goes into the bar with her wrangling mother and Señor Ramón, as Regina cradles her repentant lover. The delighted Eusebio and Genera look on happily, and beg the audience to pardon the faults of the play as the curtain falls.

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