The first night of La montería on 25th January 1923 at the Teatro de la Zarzuela proved the foundation of the composer's financial fortune. The actual premiere had been two months earlier, 24th November 1922 at Zaragoza's Teatro Circo; but his operetta's Madrid success franked the critical success of La alsaciana (1922) and pointed the way to the richer artistic achievement of Los Gavilanes later in the year. Strangely, none of these three zarzuelas have a Spanish setting, although there's no specifically English music audible in Guerrero's score.
Most of La montería is lightweight, generic operetta, but its catchy tunes and jazzy harmonic touches were enough to ensure its popularity for many years, even if today it seems somewhat moth-eaten. The most popular number was Ana's Tango milonga "Hay que ver", with its distinctive whistling chorus; but the best music is nearly all given to the baritone hero Edmundo. His Act 1 Dúo with Marta contains one melody - "Ya la ilusión con que soñe" - of real distinction, which could only come from a zarzuela.
Act 1 - A pretty village in English hill-country, outside the feudal castle of the Duke of Jetkinsson. After a tuneful Preludio, pre-empting many of the zarzuela's most popular themes, we hear Pipón, the Duke's young huntsman blowing his horn to sound the end of the day's activities. He announces a holiday for all the villagers who took part in the hunt, not least Ana, a young maid from the castle who is the winsome object of his affections. Pipón frets about the well-being of his sister, Marta, who is greeted enthusiastically by the villagers when she appears. She lightly recounts the amorous attention she has received during the hunt from one of the aristocratic hunters, not without a certain bitterness (Coro y canción: "Hermosa aldeana".)
Marta confesses to the inquisitive Ana that her admirer is none other than the Duke's son, Sir Edmund. Fearing her brother's reaction, she begs her friend to be discreet. Pipón reappears, but has little chance to make headway with Ana before Sir Edmund himself arrives. He laughingly offers to speak up for the couple to his father, and continues flirting with the dismissive Marta, telling her that he knows all about love's torments (Cuarteto: "¡Bravo, bien! ... Si en el pecho sentís".)
Left alone with Marta, Edmund begins to charm her into submission; but he is interrupted by the arrival of four aristocratic ladies - Marquise, Countess, Baroness and Viscountess - who frighten the poor girl off with withering sarcasm. When they mockingly remind Edmund of his imminent wedding with his lovely cousin Ketty ('Katy') the young man claims he is only indulging in a little harmless flirtation; and in a lively ensemble he begs them not to not to gossip about what they have seen (Fox-trot: "La murmuración ... ¡Oh baronesa gentil!").
The Duke returns from the hunt with Ketty and his other guests. He lectures his son on his amorous delinquency, but although Edmund promises to reform, he makes clear to his friends Edward, Henry and Hugo that he is only marrying this cousin because his father has threatened to disinherit him if he refuses. He has begged Marta to yield her virtue, but she is a girl of principle and her brother - alerted to the situation by the Duke's words - will guard her honour fiercely. Edmund makes one more attempt, sending a letter to the girl through his six huntsmen (female chorus). The huntsmen discover the girl, who refuses their request to take pity on their master, but nevertheless waits for Edmund to reappear (Marcha de las monteros: "Escucha, bella niña".) He pours out his heart in the lyrical Dúo: "No importunéis a la bella ... Ya la ilusión con que soñe". Marta can hold out no longer, and admits that she loves him too.
Edmund embraces her and leaves, but not before her brother Pipón spies what is going on. He swears to be revenged on the philandering heir, and asks Ana to help him. According to village custom, Ana is to be crowned Queen of Justice on the morrow. Her privilege will be to dictate judgments in lovers' quarrels, and those judgments are final. She agrees to use what power she has to save Marta from her fate, and the villagers acclaim their Queen-to-be in the brief Final: "¡Hurra por nuestra reina!".
Act 2, scene 1 - The village green, decked out for the holiday fair. The villagers are enjoying the festivities (Coro: "Alegre día".) Ana enters in the traditional Queen's costume, handed down from olden times. She mocks such old-fashioned flummery to the strains of a far from old-fashioned Tango milonga: "¡Hay que ver mi abuelita!", a catchy tune soon taken up by the whistling chorus of villagers.
Upset by the compromising secrecy of her situation, Marta breaks down under Ana's kindly questioning. 'The Queen' commands her to forget love and takes her gently back to home. Eduardo, patronising the fair with his friends, is ruffled by Marta's absence. Ana rushes back pursued by the amorous Pipón, determined to snatch a rose from her - and why not a kiss as well? (Dúo cómico: "No corras así".)
Pipón goads the furious Edmund further by asking him to deliver a love letter. His real love isn't Ana, he claims, but a lady in the castle - Ketty! After all, if a nobleman can love a village girl, why shouldn't a huntsman love a fine lady? Edmund's response is to tear up the letter, and Pipón in return lets him know that Marta is not to be compromised. The scene ends as Pipón, Ana and the villagers join together in a country maypole dance, bright with coloured ribbons (Coro: "En el alegre baile".)
Scene 2 - That night, in the castle gardens. Marta has agreed to meet Edmund in this secluded spot, but Pipón has discovered the plan and advised Ketty what is afoot. Hearing Edmund serenading his lover in the distance with his huntsmen, she and Pipón hide in the shrubbery. Edmund enters and sings sweetly to attract Marta's attention (Serenata: "Esta es la ventana donde mi aldeana".) The girl arrives, and the huntsmen leave. Edmund swears eternal love, and though she tells him it is impossible the two soon sink into each other's arms (Dúo: "Ven, que amor eterno".) The supernatural magic of the night is manifest in a Dance of Fairies amongst the castle ruins, as the triumphant Edmund sings a passionately warm Romanza: "Es la noche callada".
Pipón emerges, shattering the idyll. Edmund flees, and the huntsman tells his sister that the Duke knows all and has sworn to exile his son from the estate forever. Ketty takes pity on the distraught girl, and when she promises to plead with the Duke on her behalf, Marta kisses her rival's hands in gratitude.
Scene 3 - Outside the Castle, next day. The villagers and Ana greet the Duke, who has come to apologise to Pipón for his son's behaviour. With the help of Ana and Ketty, the huntsman procures Edmund's pardon, and Marta soon softens the old aristocrat's heart, obtaining his permission to marry Edmund. All praise the Duke's wisdom in the brief Final: "¡Hurra por nuestra reina!".