La leyenda del beso

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated September 2nd 2002

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La leyenda del beso
by Reveriano Soutullo and Juan Vert
libretto by Enrique Royo, Antonio Paso Díaz & Silva Aramburu

® recommended recording

La leyenda del beso ('The Prophecy of the Kiss') was premiered at Madrid's Teatro Apolo, on January 18th 1924. Its libretto, an attempt to cross the gypsy tragedy of La tempranica with the gentrified hunt comedy of La Montería, is not its strong suit. The elevated tone of the encounters between Count Mario and his gypsy love, Amapola, is undermined by a bevy of sentimentally well-bred Romanies and a coarse comedy sub-plot which would not be out of place in a fifth-rate Jacobean tragedy. The anticipated bloody conclusion is sidestepped in favour of an implausibly damp squib, as the 'prophecy' proves true only in a metaphorical sense.

BMG CD cover - La leyenda del beso

This threadbare farrago is almost completely redeemed by Soutullo and Vert's strong score. At first glance, much of it may seem like Poor Man's Puccini - indeed, the Act 1 Dúo for Mario and Amapola quotes Madama Butterfly almost verbatim - but their potent evocation of the gypsy tribe is quintessentially Spanish, and as melodically rich as anything the partnership wrote. The oft-played Intermedio, a strong if unsubtle piece of musical Spanishry, is only the best known number in a score which is full of life and power.

The Act 2 Zambra is a thrilling set piece, with the unlikely "gypsy-foxtrot" not far behind. The duets for the fatal Amapola with Mario have great charm; but perhaps the finest number is her intensely melancholy confrontation with the luckless Iván. The clash of indifference with passion always seemed to bring out the best in Spanish composers, and Soutullo and Vert were no exception. Two of the most memorable gypsy themes recur as leitmotifs to bind their score together: Iván's "Caminar sin fin"; and his related "Amor mi raza sabe conquistar", which almost comes to stand for the fateful prophecy itself.

Act 1 - The Park of an ancient Castilian castle. An heraldic Preludio contrasts aristocratic hunting horns with melancholy romance, as Iván and his tribe sing a gypsy song, complete with tambourines, of love and loss (Canto: "Cantando amarguras".)

The horns resound, and the youthful Lord of the Manor Count Mario appears with fashionable friends of both sexes. They extol the joys of the chase in a jolly Coro y Canción: "¡Que viva Mario! ... Tras de la jauría". Mario must shortly be married, and his friends tease him because this will mean giving up pursuit of one animal at least - beautiful women. Gorón, a waggish Lothario from Madrid, comes in wearing a straw hat which he has taken as a trophy from Simeona, the pretty but half-witted fiancé of the brutish Cristóbal. This well-muscled keeper has followed his rival's scent with some fearsome hunting dogs, but soon retreats, baffled by Gorón's sophisticated banter.

The gentry settle down to a champagne lunch, during which Gorón continues to boast of his conquests. Simeona's father, the old keeper Juan, tells Mario that a tribe of gypsies has asked permission to camp in the castle grounds for a few days. The young Count receives Iván with a group of gypsies who sing in praise of their wandering life (Canto: "Caminar sin fin"); and after a short dance, the beautiful Amapola steps forward to finish the song ("Mi canción quiere fingir") with Iván and the whole tribe.

Alesko, their chief, formally asks permission for a two day stay. Mario grants it willingly, provided the gypsies agree to entertain his friends with a gypsy zambra (dance) before they leave. He is evidently attracted to Amapola, and detains her when the others leave to be fed and watered inside the castle. She meets his compliments with fatalistic gloom, and when Iván disturbs them Mario leaves, fascinated by the mystery. The young gypsy himself is obsessed with Amapola, but she makes it clear she does not want him in their proudly matched Dúo: "Amor mi raza sabe conquistar".

Alesko and Ulita, an old gypsy wise woman, thank Mario for his hospitality before returning to their camp with Iván and Amapola. The simple Simeona runs in pursued both by the jealous dog-handler and her father, Juan, who attempts to make peace and drags Cristóbal off. Gorón takes advantage of his absence with a further assault on the girl's not unwilling virtue, before Cristóbal returns in pursuit. Simeona runs off, and Gorón again succeeds in pulling the wool over the baffled keeper's eyes.

Mario's friends Alfonso and Ernesto come in search of Gorón to join in a merry jape. The three 'serenade' their female friends Ketty, Margot and Charito with a noisy ringing of bells (Pasodoble: "Seguidme, troveros".) The love-smitten Mario teaches them how to do it properly in a graciously civilised Serenata: "Oye, hermosa prisionera".

The ladies join them in a mocking commentary on Mario's sudden infatuation. Suddenly they hear a scream, and hurrying to the spot they find Amapola cornered by a wild boar. Mario returns with the terrified gypsy in his arms. Moved by his declaration of love, she almost allows him to kiss her; but at the last moment she fends him off, telling the confused Count that the touch of her lips will be fatal to him (Dúo: "¡Gran dios! ... Oye, gitana".)

Old Ulima emerges from the gloom to explain Amapola's behaviour. The girl's mother, a femme fatale whose life was ruined by her beauty returned to her tribe to die. With her last breath the woman prophesied a terrible fate for her young daughter: whoever kisses Amapola's lips, will die. The wise woman vanishes with Amapola, leaving Mario to swear that he will take that kiss, though it may cost him his life.

Act 2, Scene 1 - The gypsy camp. In their Canción: "Quien trabaja cantando" the Romanies, led by Gurko, praise their wandering life as they prepare for the zambra - though Iván moodily sharpens a knife ("Hecho de un rayo de luna".) He is determined to settle accounts with Mario, although Aleko and Ulita do their best to make him see reason.

Gorón strolls in for some amorous by-play with an inviting gypsy, Coral. Some of her friends join the pair as the Madrid man-about-town attempts to teach the gypsies to dance in the Paris fashion. The result is the lively and unexpected 'Gypsy Foxtrot,' (Fox: "Qué vaivén tiene el fox".)

Mario and his friends settle down for the festivities. After a formal invitation from Aleko, Amapola steps forward to read Mario's fortune. She foretells that his love will be his sorrow, and warns him to avoid it. Aleko takes the gentry off to look at some gypsy trinkets; and after another incursion from Cristóbal and his dogs on the scent of Simeona, Mario is able to speak to Amapola alone. He persuades her to meet him by the castle steps that evening, though she warns him once again that she must leave on the morrow.

Cristóbal drags Simeona in. She is determined to go for a cool bathe in the river, whatever he says. All he can do is conceal himself in the bushes to make sure that nobody else joins her. Gorón has bought himself a bear skin in the camp, with the idea of frightening Simeona out of the water and into the woods. The resulting spectacle, as 'the bear' chases the nearly naked Simeona out of the water, pursued by Crostóbal and his dogs, gives Mario and his friends much amusement as they settle down to watch the zambra, a spectacular sequence of dark, rhythmic song and dance, performed by Amapola, Coral and the other gypsy girls (Zambra: "Tiene el son de mi cantar ... Niña qie no tiene amores".)

Mario proposes a toast to Amapola's dark eyes, but Iván jealously dashes the glass from his hand. Alesko and Ulita ask the Count's pardon, and the scene ends with the gypsies taking up their song and dance (Brindis: "¡Oh, licor! que das la vida".) The famous Intermedio, with its inexorable tread and dark evocation of fatal passion, leads to the last scene.

Scene 2 - The Castle steps, by moonlight. Mario waits anxiously for Amapola, and nothing the chastened Gorón and his friends can offer in the way of entertainment can tempt him back inside. Amapolo comes to him, and at the climax of their Dúo: "¿Vendrás, mujer? Mi corazón te aguarda" they kiss.

Iván is swiftly on the scene, but before he can knife his rival Ulita interposes: he must let the 'Prophecy of the Kiss' do its work, not his knife. The old woman implores Amapola to depart with them, and called by the spirit of her mother, the girl goes quickly, leaving Mario to brood on the fatal prophecy. His friends find him too late: Amapola's kiss and departure has indeed killed all his hopes, and left him nothing but despair.

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