Luis Mariano de Larra

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& Christopher Webber
Last updated August 1st 2000

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Luis Mariano de Larra
Luis Mariano de Larra
(1830 - 1901)

Luis Mariano de Larra y Wetoret was the son of the great romantic poet and satirist Mariano José de Larra, who committed suicide in 1837 after the collapse of his domestic life - he had left his wife to elope with a married lady, who promptly rejected him. His great friend Ventura de la Vega led the funeral cortege, and played a part in his young son's education.

Ultimately a successful novelist, poet and playwright, Luis Mariano began his career as a journalist, and in far from auspicious circumstances. A retiring man, he was an easy target for his father's erstwhile victims, the literary and theatrical reviewers that Mariano José had often lampooned. The son's work was greeted with critical opprobrium - despite popular acclaim. This was the age of a great Spanish literary as well as musical flowering, and perhaps Luis Mariano also suffered by comparison with the likes of Zorrilla, Rivas, Camproamor and Pereda. Additionally, there was yet another family scandal - his sister was responsible for defrauding large numbers of people in a financial scam - and even the public finally turned against de Larra, booing and stamping their feet during his first nights.

Eventually he was forced to give up theatre work completely. He left a legacy of workmanlike libretti for the Teatro de la Zarzuela. With Gaztambide he wrote Las hijas de Eva (1862), La conquista de Madrid (1863) and La varita de las virtudes (1868); with Arrieta La ínsula Barataria (1864¹); Cadenas de oro (with Ramón Navarrete, 1864); Los misterios del Parnaso (1868) and La Guerra Santa (based on Jules Verne and in collaboration with Pérez Estrich, 1879). He also wrote libretti for Marqués, Caballero and others.

Undoubtedly his major claim to fame in the annals of zarzuela is one, great work with Barbieri, the three-act El barberillo de Lavapiés (1874). Sueños de oro (1872); La vuelta al mundo (1875); Chorizos y polacos (1876) and Juan de Urbina (1876) do not match their enormous success with El barberillo, one of the defining works in the history of zarzuela. Taking his cue from José Picón in Pan y toros, de Larra provided Barbieri with a fine libretto in which the conventionally aristocratic verse drama is overshadowed by the popular language and characters of Madrid, presented with clarity and simplicity. The consequences of this were to be enormous, but El barberillo is a masterpiece in its own right, and a great affirmation of the Spanish spirit.

¹ Like Gilbert in The Gondoliers, de Larra took his Island of Barataria from Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, where it is Sancho Panza's reward from his master.

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