The drama of La del Soto del Parral is markedly unsensational to the point of self-denial - how many writers would have kept the shady Angelina, mainspring of the plot, offstage throughout? The central characters are a well-matched husband and wife, and the nearest approach to bad behaviour is the curiosity of the local poetaster, old Tío Prudencio, desperate for some real-life romance to inspire his latest doggerel epic.
The two composers produced a score consistently strong on melody, colour and atmosphere. The choral and orchestral numbers paint an attractive picture of the Segovian countryside and its people, and Aurora's duets with her husband and Miguel bring unusual operatic situations to vivid life. Best-known of all is Germán's romanza "Ya mis horas felices", made justifiably popular by Plácido Domingo in concerts round the world. This is that operatic rarity, a love song from a husband to his faithful wife, and Soutullo and Vert made the most of the opportunity with a powerful display of passionate lyricism and formal subtlety.
Act 1 - Sunday morning in September, on the edge of a village in the countryside near Segovia, mid-19th Century. The scene is dominated by a handsome farmhouse shaded by impressive trees, El Soto del Parral ("The Arbour in the Parral"). Past events are crucial to the events of the zarzuela. The tenant farmer Germán once saved the life of Miguel, son and heir of the old squire, and the two young men became fast friends. Miguel has now inherited the property, and has respected a clause in the old man's will enabling Germán and his wife Aurora to work towards buying their farm and house outright. Miguel has now fallen in love with Angelita, a mysterious girl who lives locally, whilst a mysterious unease has clouded the happiness of Germán and his wife.
After a brief orchestral Preludio evoking the bright morning sunshine, the curtain rises on a group of farm workers, praising the beauty of the Segovian land as they walk to a hermitage to pay their respects on Fiesta day. (Coro: "Voz de la Campana".) Offstage, we hear the voice of Germán blessing his luck in having such a farm, and such a wife as Aurora (Solo: "No hay en tierras de Segovia".) A group of local lads make fun of Bruno, the village idiot, and beat him with a stick (Coro: "No hay un tonto" - often cut in performance) before Germán concludes his morning song of praise.
Damián, a lazy young farmhand, is intent on having a snooze under the trees, but the village elder and local quack Tío Sabino ("wise uncle") berates him for his illness - idleness - and sends him about his business. Catalina, young housemaid at the farm and Damián's intended bride, directs a volley of insulting banter at her departing lover, and Sabino tells her that this "illness" may make Damián unwise to marry. A rustic would-be poet, old Tío Prudencio ("prudent uncle"), tries to read some doggerel entitled "Of Love and Of Jealousy", but his recital is cut short by the mistress of the house, Aurora, who enters in no good temper, and orders all of them back to work to prepare for the Fiesta celebrations.
Prudencio sits under a tree to compose his romance, and when Germán comes in singing he punctures the farmer's good mood, warning that his happiness will not last. When Aurora comes out of the house to speak to her husband she interprets his preoccupied air as a loss of affection, and though he tries to laugh it off, he is silent when she accuses him of keeping some secret from her. Left alone, Germán hears the sound of singing from across the fields, and in a famous romanza he contrasts his troubled situation with the carefree happiness of the farmhands - how he yearns for a return to the blissful earlier times with his beloved wife (Romanza: "Ya mis horas felices".)
Miguel comes to the farmhouse, looking for his darling Angelita. Germán and Aurora greet him warmly but the farmer becomes uneasy when talk turns to the saintly nature of Miguel's late father, welcoming the distraction when Prudencio offers to read his latest poetic effusion, a poem about beauty. Prudencio congratulates Miguel on his coming marriage, Germán pointedly sends him about his business, and the three friends enter the house. Damián sneaks in for a doze under the trees, but Catalina spies him and the pair hurl high-spirited banter at one another before launching into an affectionate, sparring duet (Dúo comico: "Que soy la más linda".) After discussing their mutual lack of qualifications for marriage - Damián's attitude to work is matched by Catalina's dubious talents as a cook - they happily go about their business.
Germán uneasily brooches the subject of Angelita to Miguel, warning his friend not to contemplate marriage with the girl, as she is unworthy. Miguel, offended by his friend's lack of support, demands proof of such assertions and leaves to question Angelita. As Germán sadly goes back into the house, the workers return from the fields, to be greeted by Catalina and Damián, already dressed up for the fiesta. The farm lads court the girls in the graceful and expansive chorus (Coro: "Al fin de la faena") known as "The Lovers' Round" (Rondo de enamorados.) Prudencio is arguing with Sabino, claiming that Angelita has a long-standing liaison with Germán, who married Aurora out of convenience, an accusation Sabino dismisses as idle gossip. Prudencio remains determined to use the affair as the basis for a tragic love epic. Aurora had overheard, and eventually dismisses Prudencio angrily. Sabino assures her the rumours are nonsense, and she tells him that, true or not, the pride of la del Soto del Parral ("the lady of the house") will not be mocked. Left alone, she breaks down, unable to rid her mind of her husband's infidelity (Solo: "Mintió su cariño".) When the furious Miguel storms in, having come to the same conclusions and determined to fight Germán, the broken-hearted Aurora loyally bars the door (Dúo: "Quiero la infamia".) Sabino drags Miguel away, and the act ends as Aurora tells her husband that she knows all about his affair. Angrily he orders her back into the house, and sets off to talk to Angelita himself.
Act 2, scene 1 - A hall inside the farmhouse, afternoon three days later. Catalina is embroidering her trousseau and keeping Damián at bay, as they are to be married the very next day - though Sabino frightens the young man by taking his pulse and telling him he has a terrible illness, the only cure for which is work. A group of eager young girls approach the quack for advice on how to make themselves more attractive to the men, and Sabino treats them with a flirtatious laying on of hands (Coro de la consulta: "¿A la consulta se puede entrar?".) Aurora is out of her mind, as Germán has been away for three days, but Sabino again assures her of her husband's good faith. She calms down, though her composure is severely tested when Miguel informs her that Germán has been seen sneaking out of Angelita's house. If this turns out to be true, Aurora vows that she will leave her beloved farmhouse, never to return. [In a scene cut before the premiere, Miguel sings of his love for the Segovian landscape, contrasted with his desperation - Romanza: "Fuerza que me vence"¶.] Damián tries to hint to the squire about wedding presents, but Miguel is too distracted to pay him much attention, and leaves. Prudencio passes the latest gossip to Damián, delighted with all this new material for his tragic love poem, but when Catalina comes in, the couple mock him mercilessly, until he is goaded into paying them back with a flight of verbal rodomontade.
All is quiet when Germán finally returns to the farmhouse. He tells Sabino what has happened, and at last we learn the truth. Germán and Sabino alone know Angelita's secret. For years she was the mistress of the old landowner, who confessed the truth on his deathbed and made them vow never to reveal the truth. Germán's loyally is clear, and so he has tried - so far without success - to persuade Angelita to leave the district without revealing her past to Miguel. Sabino praises his honourable behaviour, and leaves the husband and wife together. Germán's passionate avowal of love, however much the evidence might seem to conspire against him, renews Aurora's faith, and in a warm duet she agrees to believe and trust him fully once again (Dúo: "Ten pena de mis dolores".)
The interfering Prudencio has come to give Germán a message - Angelita wants to meet him next day at a cabin in the glen. At first Germán indignantly refuses, but then has an idea - he will meet Angelita, and asks Prudencio to spy on them to gain material for his romantic poem. As the finale begins, Miguel comes back to pick a fight, still believing he has been shamefully betrayed. Aurora and Sabino intervene, but Germán responds to Miguel's taunts, and the scene ends with the two men agreeing to meet one another to fight it out (Final: "¿Qué buscas?".)
Scene 2 - The road through the glen near the farmhouse, next day. Sabino and Prudencio are still arguing about the affair, and even Sabino is shaken when Prudencio tells him about the assignation at the cabin, which he has naturally let slip to Miguel. Sabino spies the happy bridal party coming down the road after the ceremony at the hermitage, and orders Prudencio to keep quiet. Damián and Catalina, together with Aurora, the village people and some musicians, burst onto the scene in all their wedding finery. Damián encourages everyone to dance, and Aurora leads them all in a lively song (Canto: "En la cumbre nace al agua".)
"As a matter of conscience", Prudencio tells Aurora about Germán's assignation. It seems Aurora's faith in her husband is to be shattered once and for all, until the broken-hearted Miguel appears and assures her that Germán is as honourable, loving and true to his wife as any man living. He knows all, having overheard Germán's heated conversation with Angelita in the cabin, at the end of which she has agreed to leave the district for her honour's sake, and for the peace of the whole village. When Germán reappears, he is swiftly reconciled to both wife and friend. Even Prudencio is included in the general reconciliation. As the curtain falls, harmony is fully restored, and the dance begins again for the folk of the Soto del Parral.
¶ later appearing with new text, as "Bella enamorada" in El último romántico