The libretto, dry, wise-cracking and tinged with social satire, proved perfectly suited to Sorozábal's gifts. The result is perhaps the most consistently memorable, best integrated and most economical score he ever wrote. Every single number succeeds beautifully, from the emotional, yearning Preludio through the brilliant popular dance numbers for the "comedy" couple to the gently appealing romanzas for Ascención and Joaquín. Their two dúos lie at the true heart of the work. The first is an intensely exciting piece of verbal sparring, whilst the second is an incomparable essay in that tender, melancholy nostalgia which so often characterises the emotional world of zarzuela.
Act One, Scene 1 - 1934, Madrid. The small plaza of a well-heeled neighbourhood with a bar, a florists and a garage. After a brief Preludio the curtain rises on the waiter, Espasa, wiping tables as he passes the time of day with Don Daniel, a decent man fallen on hard times, and now owner of the florist shop (Escena: "Ya está aquí el pelmazo".) In front of the garage, the mechanic Joaquín is inflating a tyre, assisted by Capó, who manages to avoid most of the hard work. Don Daniel's daughter, Ascensión, comes in carrying some bouquets of roses and goes into the shop, not before everyone has stopped to admire her good looks and wonder who the lucky man will be (Salida: "Dice la gente del barrio".)
Espasa, who has intellectual pretensions, spouts about it in a convoluted, pseudo-sophisticated manner. Clarita, the manicurist at the "Feminine Athenaeum", passes through, full of the feminist jargon of her clients. Next, the dashing young pilot Ricardo appears and asks Don Daniel for Ascensión's hand in marriage. The father agrees to consult his daughter, promising to lend the elated Ricardo his support. When Don Daniel raises the matter, Ascensión tells him she is determined to marry a man of her own class, and her cowardly father escapes with embarrassment. No sooner has he gone than Joaquín comes across to pay court to her. She mocks him, too, but he gives as good as he gets and there soon develops an understanding between them (Dúo: "Hace tiempo que vengo al taller".)
Ricardo comes to speak to the florist, but Joaquín intercepts him. They needle one another, coolly at first, but the atmosphere has become increasingly heated before they leave (Dúo: "¿Quién es usté?".) Don Pedro enters in search of a drink. He is a well-to-do scrap metal merchant desperately in need of a war to raise prices. Like Espasa, he has pretensions to verbal dexterity, and their conversation is dazzlingly unintelligible. Clara comes back and Capó takes the opportunity to tell her that he is crazy about her; the girl ignores him, since she too has come to improve her mind with Espasa. Capó tells her he thinks the waiter is a fool, but when Clara speaks to Espasa about some feminist theories she has heard down at the Athenaeum the waiter takes the chance to utter a mouthful of high-flown phrases that impress even Capó, who envies his rival's cultural credentials.
Ascensión goes to deliver some flowers to an important rich client, with Joaquín accompanying her. Ricardo wants to follow them; but Don Pedro, leaving the bar with Espasa, delays him with another salvo of verbal bilge which lets the pilot know that Joaquín is his son: hot news to everybody in the plaza!
Scene 2 - The reception hall of a smart modern apartment. Ascensión has brought two, large bunches of roses for the mistress of the house, Doña Mariana. She advises her to marry a good man like her own husband, Don Pedro; who sneaks through, drunk, whilst the two women are speaking. Her smartly dressed son Joaquín is as surprised to find Ascensión in the hall as she is to see him. He tries to hide behind his hat as he makes his escape, but to no avail. The florist, though poor, is proud; as she returns to the Plaza she sings of her crushing disappointment in discovering that Joaquín is a rich boy who is playing around with her (Romanza: "No corté mas que una rosa".) As she sings we move into ...
Scene 3 - Late that afternoon back in the Plaza. Espasa tries to worm out the cause of Ascención's depression, but the florist takes advantage of the incursion of a snooty English tourist to avoid his probings. Capó wants to thrash Espasa for sneaking off with Clarita to a spiritualist meeting but the girl sweet-talks him back into a good humor in the jazzy Dúo Cómico: "Tienes que ser docíl". The waiter stuns Capó with his erudite language, and Clarita fixes another date with the victorious Espasa. When Joaquín comes in, Ascensión bursts into tears and refuses to hear listen to his explanations. Ricardo comes out of the shop and takes advantage of the situation to re-enter the lists. Ascensión tells him that a spoilt rich boy pretending to be an ordinary worker has tried to have his way with her for a lark. The others take sides with their favorite "girl with the roses", and Joaquín retreats crestfallen (Final: "Ascensión ¿qué es lo que quieres?".)
Act 2, Scene 1 - The plazoleta, some months later. After an Intermedio based on the lovers' dúo the curtain rises. Clara, now in charge of the florist shop, is tying some bouquets. Capó, her newly accepted fiancé, abandons the garage and surprises the girl with a kiss. There have been changes too in the bar, for Espasa - dressed as a bus driver - comes to buy a bunch of roses by order of his boss, for the man's wife. He lets loose one of his rodomontades; but Capó replies with a similar volley of verbal flourishes - he has been practising. Espasa retires, whilst Clara and the jealous Capó sing and dance a stirring Farruca: "Chinochilla de mi charniqué".)
Ascensión and Don Daniel enter fashionably dressed, having won a long legal battle and recovered their money and social position. Clara intuits that Ascensión does not seem entirely enamored of her fiancé Ricardo, and when the pilot appears, the ex-florist taunts him with brusque, bitter coldness, telling him to come back for her later. Ricardo leaves, fuming.
Doña Mariana follows Joaquín into the square. Her son has come to beg the garage owner to take him back on, but hearing Don Pedro and Espasa coming out of the bar spouting more nonsense, Mariana scuttles away. Pedro has been threatened with arrest for debt and needs a quick war to rescue his scrap business. Ascensión and Clara leave the shop and run straight into Joaquín, coming out of the garage brandishing a monkey wrench. Ascensión laughs bitterly, in the belief that he is at his tricks again posing as a worker. Joaquín tells her calmly that now he has to work to keep himself and his parents alive. Ascensión is overwhelmed with remorse, and though Ricardo takes her away, Joaquín can see that she still wants him and sings his confident Romanza: "No: no me importa ... Madrileña bonita". Another Intermedio, an orchestral repeat of the Farruca, leads to the next scene.
Scene 2 - A ramshackle tenement. Ascensión, wearing her old flower-seller's dress, comes in with a bunch of roses. She asks a seedy neighbor to direct her to Doña Mariana's door. Both women weep for Doña Mariana's poverty and unhappiness, and when Joaquín comes in his mother tactfully withdraws. Joaquín and Ascensión nostalgically recall the happiness they have lost for ever. It is evident they still care deeply for one another (Dúo: "¡Qué tiempos aquellos!".)
Scene 3 - Back in the plazoleta. Capó idly watches Clarita cleaning the shop windows. Times are hard, and the girl berates the mechanic for getting thrown out of his job. Espasa comes in with a bandaged head. His bus has crashed, and he too is out of a job. He has come to meet with Ricardo, hoping his experiences in the travel business have made him suitable for employment in aviation. Ascensión comes in looking for Joaquín, but they tell her he has not been seen at the garage for eight days. Seeing Ricardo coming, she goes into the shop to beg Clarita to tell the pilot that she cannot go through with marrying him. Conversely, Ricardo pleads with Espasa to say the same to his "girl with the roses." When the two messengers finally deliver their news Ascensión and Ricardo, hurt and confused, shout angrily at one another before declaring a truce - they will be friends, but thankfully never married (Dúo: "¿Es que tú te has creído?".) The pilot leaves, and Joaquín arrives, having passed his examinations for a career as an engineer. Ascensión and he forgive one another and leave together as Clarita, Capó, Espasa and the rest wish them good luck in a toast with beer from the bar (Dúo y Final: "En este calle hace tiempo".)