Romea's libretto is innocent of pretension, and very well stocked with the usual selection of picture-postcard Songs and Dances of Gypsy Life. Giménez's triumph was to turn all this theatrical baggage into potent music drama of some depth. Maria La tempranica (perhaps best rendered as 'headstrong') is a convincing character, growing in stature as her story unfolds. The gypsy songs and dances, well done in themselves, illuminate her dark, intractable nature from within rather than simply providing local colour. The Freischütz-like hunting horns of the opening, the powerful verismo passion of the central duet, the shockingly urban waltz representing the transition to alien City life at the climax of the action - all these work psychologically as well as theatrically. And though she comes in the end to accept second-best, Giménez's Maria leaves us with a sense of a woman much closer to tragedy than, say, the unfortunate Salud in Falla's obviously indebted La vida breve.
Scene 1 - Countryside near Granada, close to the Sierra Granadina. After a stirring Preludio a hunting party enters, to the sound of horns. They are friends of Don Luis, singing in praise of the joy of the chase (Coro:"Número de los cazadores"). The Englishman, Mr. James, amuses them with his attempts at Castilian, horribly mangled with English. He is eager, like all good tourists, to hear some typical peasant canciones, and Don Luis sends his servant, Curro, to the nearby farm to look for Grabié, a gypsy youth ('breaches' role) who works at the local blacksmiths. When the boy sees Don Luis, he welcomes him joyfully - the whole family love Don Luis, none more so than his sister Maria. In spite of Don Luis' attempts to shut him up, Grabié ingenuously goes on explaining how devoted she is to her "Señorito". Mr. James suspects a love affair, especially when Don Luis changes the subject and swiftly asks Grabié to sing something. The boy obliges with a cheeky song about the wicked ways of the tarantula - or perhaps the dangers of falling in love (Zapateado: "La tarántula é un bicho mu malo".)
Don Luis is shamed by his friends into telling the truth. Losing his way amongst the dangerous mountain peaks, he fell and knocked himself unconscious, coming to in the tiny hovel of his rescuers, Maria's family. The girl, known as La tempranica, nursed Luis (whom she believes to be a simple, unattached country landowner) to full recovery, and - truthful to her name - fell impulsively in love with him. Luis is evasive about whether he returned her love. He certainly left the gypsies as soon as he was able, without even saying goodbye to the girl. Maria was inconsolable for many weeks, though Grabié tells Luis that she is learning to forget him.
Warned not to tell Maria of Don Luis' proximity, the boy naturally rushes to let her know. La tempranica instantly appears, demanding to speak to Luis alone. The others leave them, and in a searching duet, he tries to calm her repeated protestations of love, whilst carefully avoiding the truth - which is that, since leaving her, he has married a beautiful woman of his own class. He warns her repeatedly that love between them is impossible, but she will not accept his word and swears to win him at all costs (Romanza y Duo: "¡Tempranica, Tempranica¡")
Scene 2 - the Gypsy camp in the mountains. Miguel, a serious and hardworking young gypsy, has fallen in love with Maria and she has agreed to marry him, An intense orchestral Preludio leads into a powerful gypsy chorus - celebrations are already underway - though Maria remains deeply melancholy (Concertante y Romanza.) Her mood is reflected by the yearning strains of the nana flamenca, juxtaposed with the joyful nonsense of some of Miguel's friends (Duo: "Triquitrí, Triquitrá")and La tempranica's passionate outbursts. Maria goes on to sing a hauntingly beautiful song, which begins in proud praise of her gypsy lover (Romanza: "Sierras de Granada") but changes course when she sees Don Luis bringing Mr. James along to sample the colourful delights of the gypsy festivities. La tempranica naturally hopes that her lover has come to claim her, and the chorus, thinking she still sings of Miguel, second her ardent longings (Coro y Solo: "¡Ay, amante!".) When Grabié, hiding behind a rock, learns the truth - that Luis is married, and an aristocrat - Maria suffers all the torments of hopeless, passionate despair.
Scene 3 - the city of Granada. An orchestral Interlude leads us from country (tanguillo with castanets) to town (a sophisticated waltz) and into the brief final scene. Maria has come to plead with Don Luis, bringing her brother with her. As soon as she catches a glimpse of his wife and baby son, reality breaks her dream apart. Patching up her shredded dignity as best she may, she decides to accept the love of the devoted Miguel and make what she can of her life. The zarzuela ends as she proudly calls her fiancé to her (Finale: "Tempranica me ya-man".)