Molinos de viento

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated January 10th 2008

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Molinos de viento
by Pablo Luna
libretto by Luis Pascual Frutos

® recommended recording

The plot of Molinos de viento ('Windmills', Teatro Cervantes of Seville, 2nd December 1910) may initially strike us now as mere flummery, typical of a multitude of sentimental operettas from just about everywhere in Europe during the first decade of the last century. Luis Pascual Frutos's text, with its cod comedy villagers and wooden principals, does little to improve matters, although it does display the twin virtues of simplicity and brevity.

Luna's achievement in making bricks out of this literary straw is all the more praiseworthy. He was not the first zarzuelero to try to emulate the orchestral sophistication and melodic sweetness of Vienna in Madrid, but his talents were such that he succeeded where others had failed. The Anglophile composer also clearly relished the chance to bring 'exotic' choruses of English sailors and Dutch maidens to the stage, in place of the Spanish dance forms familiar from the exhausted género chico tradition.

Molinos de viento - Vocal Score cover

From fairly unpromising beginnings his score blossoms; and in the through-written concertante scenes he develops real musical momentum, defining the drama through skilful use of his wistfully attractive main themes: Alberto's serenade "Mis ojos al ver los tuyos", and the 'ideal love theme' of his letter, "Yo he pasado la vida en un sueño".

No one would claim any great depth to Molinos de viento, but Luna's richly orchestrated score does succeed in making his characters' painful situations sympathetic and touching. Although Luna was to produce more lively and individual work - his later self would perhaps have made more of the Dutch settings on offer - his score still stands up as one of the two most perfect Viennese-style operettas in the Spanish repertoire: the other being Vives' La generala.

The character of Principe Alberto is almost certainly modelled on the former heir to the English throne. Like his counterpart in the zarzuela, the (by-then deceased) Prince Albert, eldest son of King Edward VII, had been celebrated in his travels across Europe, both as an amorist and naval enthusiast. He had also more bizarrely been at one time viewed as a prime suspect in the notorious Jack the Ripper murder cases in London's East End!

Scene 1 - Seafront of the Dutch fishing village of Volendam¹, in the early 1900's. The brief Introducción depicts a bright summer morning. On the beach are several vessels, including a flotilla from the English navy guarding a stranded luxury yacht. The yacht's crew has caused a great deal of trouble by flirting with the local girls, and when these attempt to visit the ship the village boys block their way. (Coro: "Dejadnos paso franco".) Stok, the bluff Commander of the yacht, hears out their grievances. He defuses the tension by telling them about his Captain, Crown Prince of a foreign country on an educational voyage, but a man like any other, thoughtful to rich and poor alike. The villagers are mollified by his explanation (Canción y coro: "En nombre de mi jefe".)

Stok has news: the yacht is ready to sail again, and her Captain-Prince, Alberto, has declared a holiday to celebrate the departure. He leaves, and soon the villagers are at loggerheads again. The men choose young Romo to present an ultimatum to the girls, who in turn select the robust Sabina to answer their threats in kind. They will continue to flirt with the sailors unless their jealous menfolk agree to marry them decently. Romo is enamoured of the pert and lovely Margarita, but his shyness has prevented him speaking out; and when he calls her over to discuss peace terms, she makes fun of him and walks away. The indignant boys make a pact not to speak to the girls.

Stok reappears with four Lieutenants, all opening love letters from village maidens. In the witty Quinteto: "Las misivas de diario" the delight of the four younger men is contrasted with Stok's horror at the passionate outpourings of the superannuated Sabina. She appears and asks the lieutenants to leave Stok behind in the village. They laughingly agree - as does the Prince himself, though he reprimands his officers for upsetting the villagers. Left alone, Alberto is approached by Romo, who tells him of the love he feels for Margarita and asks for advice. How should he declare himself? Alberto, equally enamoured of the girl but realising love between them would be impossible, advises the youth to sing to Margarita. He proceeds to show Romo how to do it, in the haunting, latinate Serenata: "Mis ojos al ver los tuyos". Better still, won't Alberto write an eloquent letter for Romo to present to the girl? Alberto agrees.

In a comic Mimica (mime scene) over music, four village girls wash clothes whilst their boyfriends relax in the local brasserie. The four lieutenants arrive, present flowers to the girls and spirit them away, much to the boys' annoyance.

Margarita, as much interested in Alberto as he in her, sees the Prince presenting the letter to Romo. She tentatively approaches the youth to discover her fate. At first the pair are too nervous to speak, but eventually Margarita opens the letter (Dúo: "Tralarara ... Por fin vencí".) When she reads Alberto's lyrical confession ("Yo he pasado la vida en un sueño") her joy is misinterpreted by Romo as a sign of feeling for him.

Before the mutual mistake can be exposed, the village boys intrude; and Romo, anxious not to reveal that he has broken their pact to have nothing to do with the girls, says that the letter is from Alberto. The villagers turn on Margarita, but at this moment Alberto appears to defend her and himself from their anger (Concertante: "Atrás, miserable"). When she runs to the Prince, all is made clear to poor Romo. The boy's position is worsened when Alberto firmly declares that the letter was Romo's after all, and the villagers beat him up for his treachery. Left alone, Margarita faints into Alberto's protective arms as the scene ends.

Scene 2 - A flowery Dutch landscape, with prominent windmills. Commander Stok tries to cheer Romo with the news that Alberto has forbidden his crew to lead the girls on any further, and will present dowries to the first five village couples to get engaged. When Romo starts weeping because he will not be amongst them, the embarrassed Stok leaves to join the holiday and celebrate peace between the villagers. Alberto, swearing his good faith, agrees to speak to Margarita on Romo's behalf, telling the young man to hide himself as she appears.

The village girls can be heard in the distance, warning of the perils of love (Concertante: "En la fuente de cariño"); but when the moment comes Alberto is unable to lie to Margarita, and they pour out their love ("No te alejes, Margot de mi lado"), fondly recalling the beautiful words of Alberto's letter. The pair leave, to the despair of the hapless Romo, as the girls' warning song echoes through the countryside.

Scene 3 - The village, late that night under a full moon. Dawn is near, but Romo cannot tear himself away from Margarita's window. Hearing footsteps, he hides: it is Stok, calling to Alberto that all the villagers are asleep, and it's time to weigh anchor. The Prince jumps down from the girl's window. Assuring Stok that the girl's honour is unsullied, out of respect for her and to keep his word to Romo, Alberto leaves sadly with the Commander (Dúo: "¡Capitán, capitán! Todo duerme".)

Margarita emerges from her house and tries to run after him; but Romo, who has heard everything, stops her firmly. There can be no happiness for any of them. They are like the arms of a windmill, blown hither and thither by the winds, eternally pursuing, destined never to come together. As the hapless pair weep, wrapped up in their solitary sadness, the voice of Alberto can be heard in the far distance, still singing of his ideal love (Final: "Yo he pasado la vida en un sueño".)

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A note on Volendam: (courtesy of Jan Kes)
Between 1880 and 1914 (and again after World War II until the present day) many painters, writers, photographers and other artists from the USA and England as well as other parts of the world worked and stayed in Volendam. Pablo Luna must have been one of them. An interesting book on the subject is Holland Mania by Annette Stott, who make a thorough study of the phenomenon (The Overlook Press, New York, 1998, ISBN 904140340X). Around 1900 Volendam was really "the place to be". Hotel Spaander still has a collection of 1300 works by 300 different painters. Because of the frequent use of the colour red the English painter Edward Penfield in 1900 nicknamed Volendam "the magenta village".