La patria chica

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated November 21st 2000

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La patria chica
by Ruperto Chapí
libretto by Serafín & Joaquín Alvarez Quintero

® recommended recording - LP only

Few openings are more evocative than the distant trumpet calls of Chapí's Preludio for La patria chica, first performed at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, on 15th October 1907. The Alvarez Quinteros' slight one-act género chico sainete is intensely evocative of all things Spanish, though it is set in contemporary Paris. No wonder that the characters' recreation of their patria chica ("little homeland") in a cold, French garret has gained a special place in the hearts of emigrés around the world.

The score was Chapí's last major success. Like many of his later zarzuelas it makes up in musical sophistication what it lacks in fresh melodic inspiration. Having said which, the sweeping, dramatic Preludio is amongst his most masterly orchestral works in thematic power as well as form. Although the succeeding solo numbers do not match this level, there is much attractive music - notably Pastora's epigrammatic "Te quiero", which remains one of the wittiest gems in the Spanish soprano repertoire.

La patria chica - vocal score cover

Scene - A garret in turn-of-the-century Paris, home and studio of ambitious young Spanish painter, José Luis Romero. The painter is trying to put the final touches to a canvas requested by a rich Englishman (Romanza: "Mujer de vulgar historia") but is distracted by the antics of Españita, an old Spaniard long domiciled in Paris. He often visits the painter's attic to get away from the taunts of his sharp-tongued wife. The two men discuss the enigmatic character of the rich Englishman, Mr Blay, who so admired one of José Luis's early Spanish portraits, that he promised money to the impoverished painter if he agreed to make a copy for him. The evocative figure makes Españita homesick for the Andalucia of his birth.

More Spanish emigrés arrive in search of the painter. Pastora, Pilar, Mariano and Ansúrez are four members of a flamenco troupe brought to Paris by an unscrupulous impresario. After the failure of the show, the performers have been left to fend for themselves. Penniless and hungry, the four have no means of returning to Spain and have come to appeal to the painter for help. He calms them down, and explains that their best hope is to allow him to finish his painting and sell it to the rich Englishman.

To while away the time Españita sings the visitors a coplas (couplets) in Spanish style which he has written to console himself in his troubles. Eventually they all join him (Coplas y quinteto cómico: "Yo soy español"). Fired by his patriotism, Mariano and Pastora argue passionately as to whose part of Spain has the best landscapes, festivals and songs, he in Aragonese jota style and she in an Andalucian soleares (Dúo: "Pom pom ...")

José Luis finishes his painting just as the Mr Blay arrives. The emigrés crowd round, begging him to buy it and enable them to return to their beloved Spain. The Englishman is not impressed, especially when Ansúrez sings a frantic gypsy song in order to persuade him to part with the cash (Canción castiza: "Un dolorcito que tengo no lo curan 'melecinas'") and its cool reception only deepens their plight. Pilar fares little better with a modest prayer to the virgin (Plegaria: "Al virgen santo del Pilar") and it is only when Pastora throws caution to the winds and sings him a passionate but teasing love song (Canción: "Te quiero") that Mr Blay changes his mind. He will pay for their repatriation - on condition that Pastora stays with him in Paris.

The proud Aragonese Mariano objects on behalf of his erstwhile sparring partner, and appeals to the Englishman's sense of fair play - the Spaniard's way is all for one and one for all, so if Pastora cannot leave, none of them will. They will not buy their freedom with her dishonour. Blay is impressed by this demonstration of Spanish pride and changes his mind. He will pay for them all - though he himself will accompany them, and attempt to win Pastora's heart through his own merits. The sainete ends with a brief but ecstatic finale, led by Mariano, with all the Spaniards singing the tune of the trumpet call of the Preludio (Final: "A que hable mal de España").

song texts

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