Beneath the twilit, romantic action of El huésped ... lies a deeply felt tribute to the golden age of Castilian Spain and its spiritual home, Toledo. Our sense of watching a tale within a tale is heightened by the fact that we don't meet with the title figure until late in the day. 'The Guest' is a writer - none other than Spain's greatest, Cervantes himself - watching, absorbing, commenting on the eternal human drama that unfolds before his and our eyes.
Enrique Reoyo also worked with Guerrero on La canción del Ebro (1941) and was one of the writers of the equally elevated and poetic La leyenda del beso for Soutullo and Vert. Certainly the blank verse he puts into the mouth of Cervantes forms a noble and moving envoi to the action. Juan Ignacio Luca de Tena was perhaps responsible for the comic Rodrigo-Constancia story, a mirror action which provides El huésped ... with the double-plot ambience of classic Renaissance drama.
Given the scrupulous care which Guerrero lavished on his score, it's not surprising that this is the composer's most subtly finished and technically perfect work. It is also chock full of memorable tunes - the lively 'Song of the Girls from Lagartera', the imprisoned Raquel's touching Romanza, Juan Luis's 'Song of the Sword' and perhaps above all his brief but beautiful "Mujer de los negros ojos" which provides the musical climax of the action before Cervantes' spoken peroration. The dúos for hero and heroine display great poise and flexibility of mood, and altogether El huésped del Sevilliano justifies its place as the best loved of Guerrero's works, and one of the most popular zarzuelas in the entire repertoire.
Act 1, scene 1 - Late afternoon in a small Toledo square, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In the workshop of Master Andrés Munstein, the town's finest swordsmith, three of his journeymen are tempering swords. A group of girls led by Ginesa are filling their pitchers at a fountain, and their romantic musings merge poetically with the songs of the swordsmiths at their work (Coro: "En la fuente cristalina".)
He doesn't have long to wait. Painter and page conceal themselves as she leaves the workshop to attend mass at the great Cathedral, and are duly stunned by her classic grace. Raquel sings a folksong in praise of the beauty of Toledo women, and Juan Luis chimes in from his hiding place (Dúo: "Cuando el grave sonar de la campana".)
The artist asks Master Andrés for permission to use his daughter as a model, but the swordsmith is alarmed when he mentions her Hebraic features - Andrés is a converted Jew - and denies the request. Suddenly, they hear Raquel crying for help. Juan Luis hurtles to the rescue to find Raquel and the aristocratic Don Diego beset by three citizens. The painter beats off the trio, receiving a wound to the hand in the process. Thanking him for his aid, Don Diego enters his palace; but all was not as it seemed, as Raquel explains once her relieved father has left the scene. The citizens were protecting her from Don Diego's unwelcome attentions, but she is unwilling to worry her father by exposing this powerful libertine for what he is. The young woman and her protector are united in indignation at Don Diego's arrogant behaviour, but their mood soon softens and a love scene develops (Dúo: "Insolente, presumido".)
Word has got out about Rodrigo's oath, and the page runs in pursued by a bevy of ugly women. Constancia, the maid at the Sevillano Inn, is enduring equally pestilential attentions from a group of handsome young men, and the two seek refuge by feigning an assignation with one another (Pasacalle: "No me seas esquivo".) Frustrated, the ugly women pair off with the handsome men and leave. Constancia tells Rodrigo that she is heading for the swordsmiths to collect a dagger for a charismatic writer who is lodging at the Inn. Master Andrés, who has read several of his works, seconds her enthusiasm; and Constancia leaves with the repaired dagger.
Dusk falls and Don Diego slips from his palace with four masked servants (Solo y coro: "Salid, mis fieles criados".) When Raquel appears they gag her and carry her off to the Inn, despite her father's attempts to intervene. Juan Luis, rushing in too late, promises to rescue her from the kidnappers - even at the cost of his life (Final: "Castellano, toledano".)
Act 2, scene 1 - A narrow highway looking down on the city. Juan Luis meets with Rodrigo, who has heard from Constancia that a veiled woman has been carried into the Sevillano and is being imprisoned in a room at the Inn. Ordering the page to verify Raquel's identity, Juan Luis listens pensively to the song of a muleteer, coming into town with some villagers from Lagartera, including Teresa (Solo y coro: "Para mula de varas".) The girls have come to sell trinkets, lace and finery to the women of Toledo, and Teresa leads them in a vivacious song praising the native wit of their village (Coro de Lagarteranas: "Corred más que antes que sea noche".)
The arranged party gets underway with the arrival of a lively group of youngsters, singing and dancing with Constancia to the rhythm of Don Diego's guitar whilst the disguised nobleman gives orders to his four masked servants (Coro: "Entren pues, todos los mozos".) Rodrigo, still in monkish attire, interrupts the music and picks a fight with Don Diego as the revellers scatter. Constancia is thus enabled to overhear that Don Diego plans the abduction on the stroke of midnight. She informs Rodrigo, arranging for a small window to be left open. The painter is soon on the scene, and reflects on the beauty of his imprisoned love in the lyrical Romanza: "Mujer de los negros ojos".
He slips into the Inn through the window to protect Raquel. Over an orchestral evocation of the summer night, Cervantes drinks in the cool night air, reflecting in a spoken Monologo: "Pintura sobre pintura" on the likely outcome of the story and the "wonderful, strange mixture ... mystics and adventurers and poets and soldiers ... that is Castile and Spain".
Don Diego appears with his masked thugs but is held up outside the inn by Constancia, giving Rodrigo time to alert the City Guard to the attempted kidnapping. Juan Luis holds him at bay, the Guard arrive and after a short struggle lead Don Diego and his henchmen away. The triumphant painter and Raquel leave to put her father's mind at rest, Rodrigo and Constancia plight their troth before the page rushes off after his master. Constancia herself is curious to watch Cervantes working in the serene night air, and asks what he is writing about. The illustrious Guest tells the girl that she is to be the protagonist of his next story, La ilustre fregona ('The Noble Kitchen-maid') and the zarzuela ends with a brief orchestral Final to the theme in praise of the women of Toledo.