|Ramón de la Cruz|
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Ramón de la Cruz Cano y Olmedilla, born in Madrid on March 28th 1731 into an aristocratic family, worked for many years as a minor official for the Duke of Alba. Desirous of breaking with the stale tradition of mythological and classical subjects, his early impetus was to translate modern Italian and French operettas, giving them Spanish settings and adapting them into a form suitable for Madrid audiences. These early works include Quien complace a la deidad acierta a sacrificar (1757), Los cazadores (1764), El filósofo aldeano (after Rousseau, 1765) and La buena hija (1765).
Later, he began writing original texts, mostly based on his observation of contemporary Madrid life at a variety of social levels, some of which were set by Spanish musicians such as Rodríguez Hita. Works such as La Briseida (1768), Las labradoras de Murcia (1769) and La mesonerilla (1769) gave a huge impulse to Spanish musical theatre. Their successors included a host of works, including Las foncarraleras (1772), El extranjero (1786), the acclaimed La Clementina (with the Italian Boccherini, 1786) and La espigadora (1788).
On a much smaller scale, he wrote about 400 spoken sainetes and musical tonadillas escenicas, vignettes of popular life and character, often placed as intermedios (intermezzos) between the acts of longer works. These lost him the respect of the Classicists, though gaining him the affection of the public at large. The spoken sainetes include La pradera de San Isidro (1765), Las majas vengativas (1768), Las tertulias de Madrid (1770) - and Las castañeras picadas which was adapted over a century later by Carlos Fernández Shaw with music by Quinito Valverde and Torregrosa (1898).
De la Cruz died in Madrid, on 5th May 1794. In some ways a literary mirror to Goya, his chief legacy to zarzuela was the naturalistic tonadilla, a bud of popular portraiture from which the hugely successful género chico zarzuela was to blossom nearly a century later.
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