La tempestad

This material is © Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK. Last updated October 27th 2009

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La tempestad
by Ruperto Chapí
libretto by Miguel Ramos Carrión

® recommended recording

Carrión always denied hotly that his well-made play (Teatro de la Zarzuela, Madrid, 11th March 1882) owed anything to Erckmann-Chatrian's Le Juif Polonais, the sensational novel which was the source for Leopold Lewis's famous Victorian drama The Bells (1871). The guilt-wracked Simón is certainly close kin to burgomaster Mathias, the role which made Henry Irving the most famous actor of his time; but in fairness Carrión's plot with its maritime flavour derives little more from the source, so perhaps his righteous indignation was justified. Though Simón is much the most memorable, Carrion's romantic and comic characters are uniformly strong and attractive - though admittedly the saintly behaviour of Beltrán may stretch modern credulity!

Gustav Dore - from "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner"

La tempestad is the earliest of Chapí's major scores to remain in the repertoire. As with the libretto, commentators have pointed out its reliance on French sources; and indeed the lilting bassoon tune in the Preludio (from the lovers' Act 1 dúo) strongly recalls Bizet's use of the saxophone in L'Arlésienne. True, there's no special flavour here to differentiate Chapí's music from many operas of the time; but nowadays reminiscences of Meyerbeer and Gounod are not so obvious as the score's passing acquaintance with Wagner's Flying Dutchman, both in its fresh, lively choral writing and intensely theatrical storm music.

The most original music is Simón's Act 1 monologue, "La lluvia ha cesado", with its reminders of Rigoletto's "Pari siamo" in its gradual evolution from brooding recitative to lyrical arioso, but other numbers are at least equally attractive. The exquisite Barcarola for the lovers is one of a very small number of soprano duets in the repertoire; the tenor's Romanza in praise of his beloved coast is equally memorable; the choruses and ensembles are varied and well put together. Altogether, La tempestad is musically superior to Arrieta's not dissimilar Marina; only its melodramatic tone and the scenic demands of the last act account for its comparative neglect.

The action of La tempestad takes place in a port village in Brittany, during the early years of the nineteenth century. It centres on the death of a rich merchant arriving from the West Indies during a tempest some twenty years earlier, murdered and robbed as he struggled to land with his baby daughter. She was left in the care of the miserly, taciturn innkeeper, Simón, who had claimed to see a young villager commit the crime. By next morning the man had fled, never to be seen again.

Act 1 - Inside Simón's Inn. After a Preludio depicting a violent tempest, the curtain rises to reveal the women of the village. They pray to the Virgin for the safety of their menfolk, whose voices are heard out to sea as they struggle to bring their boats safely into port (Coro: "Estrella de los mares"). To everyone's relief, the storm eases, the boats land safely; and the cheerful Mateo leads the other sailors in a spirited drinking song (Coplas: "La carga y el pasaje salváronse por fin").

The sailors praise the young fisherman, Roberto - a 'breeches' role - for his bravely saving the life of a passenger on a stricken barquentine. He modesty replies that the sea was his cradle, so why should he be afraid of it? (Estrofas: "Hijo soy del mar salobre"). The villagers carry him away in triumph, and Mateo describes his bravery in ludicrously graphic detail to Simón's housekeeper Margarita. The local Justice and Town Clerk recall the unsolved crime, which took place during a tempest similar to today's. The child, Angela, is now grown to a fine young woman, and has fallen in love with the brave Roberto. The storm has blown itself out, and everyone goes about their business.

Simón, who had locked himself away during the tempest, reveals in a brooding monologue that though the skies have cleared, his own soul is still wracked with the storms of guilt (Monólogo: "La lluvia ha cesado".) He is jealously opposed to Roberto's feeling for his adopted daughter, but once the old man leaves the youngsters take advantage of his absence to talk of their dreams of fulfilled love in the mellifluous Dúo: "Cuando en las noches del estío", with its gentle barcarolle rhythm.

Simón finally interrupts their idyll, making it clear that he will not give his treasure up to a penniless sailor boy. Roberto tells Angela that he must seek his fortune in the New World, which leaves her wretched. They leave, and a grey-haired stranger comes in, the passenger Roberto saved from the wreck. He is Claudio Beltrán, the man who fled the village as the suspected murderer that fatal night, but who now returns immensely wealthy from the West Indies. In a deeply felt, graceful Romanza he blesses the coast of his birth, despite the pain it has cost him ("Salve, costa de Bretaña".)

Angela is drawn to the stranger, and when he discovers the reason for her sadness, he agrees to endow Roberto with a large sum of money in order to allow them to marry. The sullen Simón feels powerless to prevent the good deed, but is disturbed by the stranger's look - where can he have seen him before? (Cuarteto Final: "Un hombre soy que debe".)

Act 2 - Outside the Inn. Wedding preparations are underway, and the villagers gather to honour the happy bride with a dawn serenade (Alborada: "Llegad, llegad ... Despierta, niña despierta".) Mateo sings a Coplas: "Ha comprado veinte casas" extolling - and exaggerating - the catalogue of Beltrán's wealth and generosity. He is keen to press his own suit with Margarita, but she wishes to remain loyal to her bitter, old master. Simón refuses to have anything to do with Angela's marriage, and in a spoken monologue he reveals his increasing unease. Beltrán gently pleads with him to attend the church ceremony, but is answered scornfully.

The bridegroom, Roberto, arrives with his friends. In the freshly delicate Coro: "En busca de su novia" they greet the bride and bridesmaids. Despite Simón's objections, the marriage has taken place, much to Beltrán's delight. He presents Angela with a beautiful collar of Brazilian diamonds, though she feels that her face is better reflected in Roberto's eyes (Terceto: "Diamantes brasileños".)

The Justice gives his blessing, but Simón stands out as the spectre at the feast by contributing a doleful ballad about the drowning of a pair of newly weds in a tempest (Balada fantástica: "¡Din, don! ¡Din, dan!"). The villagers, sickened by his black humour, go off to dance, whilst Beltrán finally tells something of his story to Simón and the Justice. The innkeeper is horrified, realising his only course is to deflect suspicion away from himself by revealing Beltrán as the fugitive murderer.

With a dramatic interruption of the dance, Simon accuses Beltrán, and the Justice has no option but to take him into custody. In the impressive ensemble which follows, Beltrán's passionate declaration of innocence is seconded by the prayers of Roberto, Angela and the villagers. Only the haunted Simón knows the truth (Final: "En tanto que los novios salen acá".)

Act 3, Scene 1 - The steps of the village courtroom. The villagers solemnly describe the scene as Beltrán is brought in by the gendarmes; and in the lively passage that follows the women go on to describe the bad dreams that his likely fate - death by guillotine - has given them (Coros: "Esa es la puerta ... En cuanto me acuesto"). Roberto and Mateo are determined to free Beltrán once the verdict goes against him, by breaking into his cell through the wall of the Inn.

In the reflective Romanza: "Con él mi esperanza va", the heartbroken Angela reflects on the dangers Roberto is running for their erstwhile benefactor, who after all apparently killed her own father. The verdict is brought in, and Beltrán emerges to proclaim that he dies innocent. Joined by Roberto, Angela he puts his faith in God and blesses the young couple in a final embrace (Terceto: "Al borde del sepulcro".)

Scene 2 - Inside the inn. It is the middle of the night, and in another passionate monologue Simón broods sleeplessly over the horror of his compounded guilt. A tempest seems to howl in the air, and he has a vivid dream of Angela's dead father and his own terrible crime, graphically described in a stormy Intermedio. The vision recedes, leaving Simón in a fitful sleep. Mateo enters through a hole in the wall with Beltrán, and tries to persuade him to hide until Roberto has a boat ready for their flight; but the honourable Beltrán will not agree to place the others in jeopardy by escaping, and goes back to his cell. Mateo, left alone with the sleeping Simón, is shocked to hear a full confession from the old man, still in the grip of his dream. He goes to tell the Justice what he has heard.

Scene 3 - The courtroom. Simón madly protests his innocence, but the recurrent vision of the dead man forces him to break down and confess all. He is taken away to be judged, and as the innocent Beltrán is restored to the arms of the devoted young couple and the faithful Mateo the zarzuela ends with a brief orchestral Final.

song texts

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