Luis Olona

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& Christopher Webber
Last updated May 15th 2010

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Luis de Olona
Luis Olona
(1823 - 1863)

Born in Málaga, 1823, Olona studied for the law but soon turned to the more congenial atmosphere of the theatre. He wrote plays, many translated from French originals, and librettos for music theatre flowed thick and fast from the middle of the century. They include the two parts of El duende for Hernando (1849 and 1851); La mensajera and A última hora for Gaztambide (1849 and 50); texts set by Inzenga and Barbieri; and two works written for these composers variously combined with Oudrid, Escenas de Chamberí (1850) and Por seguir a una mujer (1851, based on a French farce). Such a plethora of selfless collaborative work is reminiscent of the heyday of Jacobean drama in England!

Olona's most important initiative came on 12th July 1851, when he banded together with fellow writers such as Camprodón and Ventura de la Vega, the group of composers under Barbieri, and the singer Francisco de Salas, to rent the Teatro Circo as a base for a permanent company dedicated to the establishment of Spanish zarzuela. Olona became President, and such was the group's success that the inauguration of the national Teatro de la Zarzuela followed five years later, on 6th March 1856. Here Olona was again the presiding literary spirit, with Barbieri and Gaztambide most prominent amongst the musicians.

From the Circo years, notwithstanding work with Oudrid - notably the charming one-act farce Buenas noches señor Don Simón (1852) - Gaztambide, Hernando and even Arrieta, perhaps his libretti for Barbieri stand out. These include Galanteos en Venecia (1853), Los dos ciegos and El sargento Federico (both 1855). After the move to the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Calle Jovellanos, Olona's production continued unabated. Aside from La zarzuela (with Hurtado) set to music by Barbieri, Gaztambide and Arrieta to open the new theatre, his most significant work was to be with Arrieta and Gaztambide. For the latter composer, Catalina (1854), Los magyares (1857), Amor sin conocer and Casado y soltero (1858) all proved successful, though perhaps their finest work together was El juramento (1858), which proved thoroughly worthy of revival in a recent production at the theatre of its birth (2000).

Not surprisingly, Olona's huge workload took its toll, and he more or less retired from active theatre work after 1860. He died in Sarriá, 1863. As a tireless proponent for the rebirth of zarzuela his place in history is assured, but nor should the quality of his best work - such as El juramento - be forgotten. Comparable elegance, intelligence and depth of feeling are rarely found in words for music at any period.

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