La Parranda

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated June 6th 2001

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La Parranda
by Francisco Alonso
libretto by Luis Fernández Ardavín

® recommended recording

Taken together, Alonso's full-length zarzuelas present a wide-ranging geographical tapestry covering just about every part of the country, each with its own, very distinct atmosphere. La Parranda, first performed on 28 April 1928 at Madrid's Teatro Calderon, presents a vibrant picture of the rich Murcian plain, a riot of flowers and fruit. Ardavín's libretto may be little more than conventional rustic melodrama, but it does contain a kernel of strong, convincing motivation for the major characters. More importantly, it offered the composer a robust framework on which to hang his tapestry of colourful country dance rhythms and songs.

Vocal Score of La Parranda (courtesy Rafael Sanchez Alonso)

The music, as with his previous great triumph La Calesera, sees Alonso's melodic gift at full tide. His inspiration in La Parranda is just as consistent, his orchestration if anything more subtle and varied. The infectious melodies of the bridal scene, especially the rondalla serenade and famous Song to Murcia, are complimented by a fine love duet, and a full hand of splendidly virile choruses. Indeed, this is a choral zarzuela par excellence, with a generous, theatrical sweep which disarms criticism.

Act 1, scene 1. The courtyard of a pottery workshop in Murcia, in the last decade of the 19th century. Following a short, energetic and colourful Preludio, the curtain rises on a group of workers praising the glorious spring weather on this festival day (Coro y solos: "Festejando la flor primera"). The works owner Manuel, an aging roué, has taken a fancy to Aurora, one of the workers. Although she is clearly uncomfortable about his attentions, her coldness merely spurs him on. The girl lives alone, and Manuel is fascinated by rumours of a secret past, when she acquired the nickname of La Parranda - "the party girl". Las Parrandas is also a Murcian dance, which features in the Wedding celebrations of Alonso and Ardavín's zarzuela.

Her friend the simple worker Carmela, supported by her even more simple boyfriend El Retrasao ('backward'), reassures her that all will be well. Six botijeros, makers of those quintessentially Spanish, huge earthenware drinking pots, sing a lively song with Carmela, El Retrasao and the pottery workers (Dúo y coros: "Dame el dineriquio, que yo te guarde") to cheer Aurora's spirits. The workers chat freely, except for the young potter, Miguel, who listens thoughtfully, glancing from time to time at Aurora, who seems to return his interest.

Scene 2. The workshop, some time later. It is a holiday, and Miguel is working quietly alone. When Aurora appears he takes the opportunity to speak out seriously, and in a passionate Dúo: "Mirandome en tus pupilas" they confess their mutual love. Manuel interrupts their idyll, and tries to turn the situation to his advantage by bullying the young woman into compliance. With a rush of blood, the infuriated Miguel runs to her defence, and only the intervention of Carmela and El Retrasao saves the foolhardy boss from serious injury. Naturally he sacks Miguel on the spot, and Aurora bravely decides to leave with him.

Carmela, El Retrasao and the popular moneylender from the local village Don Cuco express their glee at the couple's escape (Terceto comico: "Esta parejita ya me va escamando") Manuel, however, determines that he will find out more about this enigmatic beauty. He asks Don Cuco, who seems to know more about the mystery than anybody else, to tell him everything he knows. This the old usurer tentatively agrees to do - for a price, of course.

Act Two. Some months later, in the yard of Miguel's farm "El rento de la Alberca". The former potter's farm work has prospered, and it is the morning of his wedding to Aurora. Following a subtle Preludio-Nocturno featuring violin and cello solos, Miguel appears, rondalla (mandolin) band in tow. After a noble alborada (morning serenade) shared between the bridegroom and the leader of the band, Miguel launches into his famous song in praise of Murcia (Canto a Murcia: "En la huerta del segura".) The bride, together with some of her young friends, is busy making preparations for the wedding, and her companions chaff her on the onerous duties of a married wife. (Romanza: "Campanitas de la ermita".)

Aurora is still nervous about going through with the ceremony, partly for fear of what her old boss Manuel may be planning, and she is about to run away when Don Cuco prevents her, reassuring her that he knows her secret, that she is doing nothing wrong, and that he will find a way to put her mind at ease. The secret is a simple one. When little more than a girl, Aurora was married off by her impoverished parents to a wealthy, old man. On the day of the wedding, her drunken husband responded to a compliment from a young admirer to his wife by cutting the man's throat, and he has been an imprisoned murderer ever since. Shortly after this her parents died, and she moved away to start a new life. The marriage was never consummated, as Aurora confesses to the local Cure, Don Vicente. He has no hesitation in declaring the marriage dissolved, and agrees to officiate at her wedding with Miguel. The workshop boss, Manuel, is still intent on preventing the wedding, but even Cuco has been won over by the young couple, and now refuses to aid him - rather he tries to frighten him off by mentioning an old debt that he is owed by the landowner. Rather than bear the pain of watching the wedding ceremony, Manuel leaves, swearing to have his revenge - he thinks he already knows enough to act.

Awaiting the bridal pair's return from church, Carmela sings a vocal "Offering" (Ofrenda: "Un regalo a la novia quieren hacer".) They are greeted with a festive, choral ensemble "Boda de rumbo es esta boda", which incorporates the refrain of the earlier love duet - as well as a catchy song for El Retrasao "Esta noche varias cosas quisiera ser y no ser", bawdily insinuating the joys of the wedding night. Despite all this good humour, Aurora's secret is still gnawing at her conscience, though Miguel tries to raise her spirits with a beautifully turned aria in which he praises his wife's smile as a jewel above price (Romanza: "Diga usted, señor platero"). Celebrations reach a climax in the general song and dance Las Parrandas: "Cantares, que alegres del alma salen", but are rudely cut short by the arrival of Manuel, now accompanied by the local police, who publicly accuses Aurora of bigamy. Miguel tries to prevent his wife's arrest, but to no avail. To save her husband from committing violence, Aurora confesses. Don Vicente's assurance that the marriage had ecclesiastical dispensation is not enough to save her from detention. The officials take Aurora away to prison until the situation can be clarified.

Act 3. The Farm, some days later. Miguel is sunk in despair, but generously receives a visit from Manuel, now racked with guilt and repenting his jealous action. A general prayer for Aurora's safety ensues, sung to the solemn accompaniment of bells and organ (Salve de Auroras: "Los auroros de la Cofradía".) To everyone's surprise, Aurora appears. It emerges that Don Cuco has saved the situation by obtaining a Papal Edict confirming the dissolution of her first marriage. Finally, news comes that Aurora's first husband has died in gaol. The young couple can face the future without a shadow over their marriage, and the finale begins. The rondalla band strike up again, Miguel gives thanks for his luck in having his lovely parranda restored, and the curtain falls as the full company sings the refrain of the great Song to Murcia (Final: "Todos dicen que tienes mala fortuna".)

song texts

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