La generala

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated February 7th 2002

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La generala
by Amadeo Vives
libretto by Guillermo Perrín and Miguel de Palacios

® recommended recording

Written two years after the mould-breaking success of Luna’s Molinos de viento, La Generala (‘The General’s Wife’, Gran Teatro de Madrid, June 14th 1912) is in all essentials a fluffy Spanish operetta, evoking Ruritanian amours in an exotic setting, in this case Edwardian England. Its two librettists, who had previously provided the composer with Bohemios, were notorious for work of uneven quality. This time, however, the legendary madrileño quip about their work (“at the final curtain the audience was divided: some booed Perrín and others booed Palacios”) proved out of place. Loquacious though it is, their text crackles with wit and energy.

Vives provided a score of considerable if not entirely consistent charm, verve and élan. La generala was the first of the composer’s full-length works to demonstrate his superior melodic and orchestral gifts; and although there is nothing specially Spanish about them, the witty comic ensembles at least pick up where nineteenth century zarzuelas grandes such as Chapí’s El rey que rabío left off. Otherwise Berta’s lively Canción del Arlequín would not be out of place in a French operette, and the lilting romantic highlights of La generala could be slipped into a Viennese operetta of the period without exciting undue alarm.

Act 1 - A large castle near Oxford, England. King Cirilo II of Molavia has been overthrown in an uprising and has sought refuge in Oxford, England, together with Queen Eva and their son and heir, Prince Pío. After an orchestral introduction full of regal pomp the courtiers hail their displaced monarch with martial enthusiasm (Introducción y Marcha Militar: “Para presentarse a su Majestad”.) Given the dire economic straights in which the triumphant revolutionaries have left the Royal Family, the King’s only object is to marry the Prince off to a rich heiress; who must, however, be of royal blood. Pío, entering fresh from a game of tennis with some companions, announces his willingness to put his romantic ardor at the service of his father (Salida del Principe: “Os invito, amigos míos …. Era yo en la corte”.)

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After weighing up various possibilities, Cirilo’s choice falls on Princess Olga, daughter of his great friend King Clodomiro of Espartanopia. But a difficulty immediately arises: in order to visit his would-be fiancée, Pío needs money to buy the necessary clothes and pay for the journey, and that money is not to be had. At this critical juncture the Adjutant to the King, the Duke of Sisa (‘petty theft’) remembers that General Tocateca, Venezuelan Ambassador to the old court of Molavia and an immensely rich man, has just bought himself a castle in nearby Cambridge. Even as they get down to discussing the pros and the cons of asking Tocateca for a loan (in a lively Cuarteto Cómico) the General’s deputy makes a fortuitous appearance, requesting an audience with King Cirilo for his superior, who is in Oxford on business. Needless to say the King receives General Tocateca immediately, investing him and his wife Berta with full diplomatic honors as well as such refreshment as the precarious Royal economic situation allows. Berta entertains the courtiers in return with a dashing song about a dancing Harlequin marionette, the Canción del Arlequín: “Es un muñeco el Arlequín”, which puts her husband into such a good mood that he unhesitatingly agrees to loan the money to Cirilo.

In the course of the conversation, King Cirilo finds out that Clodomiro has been invited by Tocateca to spend time as a house guest in his Cambridge castle. Taking advantage of this happy chance Cirilo wangles an invitation for himself and his son, to give Pío the opportunity to make his mark with Princess Olga. But an unexpected complication is on the horizon: as soon as he sets eyes on Berta, Pío recognises her as the first object of his adolescent love, the famous chanteuse who starred at the Olimpia in Paris. In a famous duet notable both for bizarre verbal double-entendres and elegant lyricism (Dúo: “Mi dulce sueño de adolescente”) she warms to him as he recalls the charms of their past: perhaps his pure, youthful feeling for the singer may be transmuted into a less platonic passion for La generala. Pío is flattered by Berta’s attention, and assents in principle to her amorous overtures. The courtiers return and hail the General and his wife, as everyone looks forward to reviving the Royal fortunes in the expansive Final Concertante.

Act 2 - The garden of Tocateca’s Cambridge castle, a few weeks later. Following an orchestral Introducción based on the Canción del Arlequín, we find a colorful flower festival in progress. In her Canción de las flores (‘Song of the Flowers’) Princess Olga sings of her happiness at the suggested marriage with Pío. On the other hand Cirilo, Eva and Sisa are full of foreboding about the Prince’s growing indifference to the proposed marriage, despite his politesse in their strangely formal Dúo: “¿Te agradan las flores”.

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Tocateca asks his wife to sing once again, and she obliges with an exotic Canción escocesa (Scottish Song) to harp accompaniment, which is followed by an infectious Giga Militar (‘Military Gig’.) The general quizzes his wife about Pío’s apparent lack of interest in marriage, but she feigns surprise. La generala finds herself talking alone with Olga, and soon realizes that the Princess is sincerely in love with Pío and hurt by his coldness. She reflects on the contrast between this true devotion and her own frivolity in treating the Prince as an amusing diversion, a plaything. Consequently, there is only one logical decision to make: rather than create selfish difficulties, she must retire from the fray and leave the field clear for the young Princess. Her first step is to disillusion Pío about the strength of her own feelings. To that end Berta arranges a secret assignation with the Prince, in the garden at nightfall, firmly intending that he will discover Olga there in her place.

Their conversation gives rise to unforeseen complications. Kings Cirilo and Clodomiro have overheard Berta’s whisperings and in a witty Terceto Comico: “Señora, Señora” they question her actions. Misunderstanding La generala’s strategy they decide she is merely a cheap adventurer, and head straight off to Tocateca to expose his wife’s behavior. The old men agree to hide in the garden at the appointed hour, and so put a spoke in the adulterous wheel.

Nightfall is represented by an orchestral Nocturno, and soon the denouement comes about. Berta meets with Pío, but swiftly disappears; and when the General emerges to expose his wife’s infidelity he only discovers the Prince and Olga in the act of affectionately declaring their mutual love (Escena Concertante: “Llego la hora”.) In a sweet Dúo: “¡Que bella noche!” the young couple express their joy; and the operetta ends with relief and reconciliation all round - not to mention Berta’s wistful contentment at the budding happiness of the two young Royals - in a short, militaristic Coro Final.

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