Romero & Shaw

This page is © Pedro Gomez Manzanares
& Christopher Webber
Last updated October 10th 2001

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Federico Romero
Federico Romero
(1886 - 1976)

Federico Romero was born on 15th November 1886 in Oviedo. He trained and practised for a while as a mining engineer, a calling which adversely affected his health, before becoming a telegrapher. He was involved in the foundation of the National Telephone service in 1917 shortly before resigning to pursue his writing career. He wrote several revistas (revues) for the popular composer Ernesto Rosillo, including La rubia del Far-West (1922). Even during the long writing partnership with Fernández Shaw, he occasionally wrote with other writers, notably Las Calatravas (1941) with José Tellaeche for Pablo Luna. After 1948 and the split with his collaborator Federico turned again to solo work, notably in Pepita Romero and Aquella canción antigua (both 1952, for Juan Dotras Vila). He died in Madrid, in 1976.

Guillermo Fernández Shaw was born on 26th February 1893 in Cadiz, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. He was a son of Carlos Fernández Shaw, the author of several of the greatest zarzuelas of the Golden Age, as well as Falla's La vida breve. Guillermo trained as a lawyer but quickly gravitated into journalism, eventually becoming editor of the newspaper La Epoca, meanwhile publishing poetry in the periodical Blanco y negro. He was eventually to become Director General of the Sociedad de Autores, and died in Madrid on 17th August 1965. Guillermo also worked with his brother Rafael Fernández Shaw on Maria Manuela (1941, for Federico Moreno Torroba) and after 1948 they became regular writing partners. Un día de primavera (1947) and El gaitero de Gijón (1953) for Jesús Romo, La duquesa del Candil for Jesús Leoz (1949), La lola se va a los puertos for Barrios (1951) and El canastillo de fresas (1951, the last zarzuela of Jacinto Guerrero) were the fruits of this later collaboration.

Romero and Shaw wrote over 70 libretti together, but from the very first, the wildly popular La canción del olvido for José Serrano (1916), their supreme merit was recognised. Soon they were in demand with all the leading theatre composers. In addition to zarzuelas, they produced stage versions of dramas by Goethe and Schiller, as well as Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. The practical influence of these forays into verse drama gives many of their libretti a sophisticated literary quality which stands the test of time. Their structures are watertight, their dialogue sleek and richly characterised, and their finest lyrics - such as "Por el hume lo sabe" from Doña Francisquita - have a density and imaginative depth which is rarely found in any words specially written for music.

Occasionally they turned to classic theatre for their plots, always to good advantage. This tactic was used to supreme effect in two major works written for Amadeo Vives. Doña Francisquita (1923) is held up as the most representative 3-act zarzuela, though in reality much of its atmosphere comes from its heady evocation of the madrileño genéro chico zarzuelas of the 1890's. It is a radical reworking of Lope de Vega's classic comedy La discreta enamorada. The later and even more ambitious La villana (1927) is a more straightforward adaptation of the same author's Peribañez y el comendador de Ocaña. Romero and Shaw also provided Vives with his last two completed zarzuelas and the text for the unfinished Talismán, completed and performed after the composer's death in 1932.

For Guerrero they quarried the same mine with the hugely popular La rosa del azafrán, taken from a Lope de Vega original with the rather less romantic title El perro del hortelano ('The Gardener's Dog'). Another classic Spanish dramatist, Jacinto Benevente, was visited in 1925 for Conrado del Campo's as yet unperformed opera La malquerida.

Guillermo Fernandez Shaw
Guillermo Fernández Shaw
(1893 - 1965)

Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernandez Shaw cartoon
Romero and Shaw cartoon
from the 1940's

Most of their texts are original, and range far and wide in time and space over Spanish regional and madrileño settings. A brief listing of the best known reads like a history of zarzuela in the mid 20th century. For Rafael Millán they produced El dictador (1923) and La severa (1925, renamed La Morería when revived in Madrid three years later). For Jesús Guridi they penned the Basque idyll El caserío, La meiga (1928) and the later, less successful Peñamariana (1944). Luna was given La moza vieja (1931). For Guerrero they produced several highly successful works in addition to La rosa del azafrán, including Las alondras (1927) and Loza Lozana (1943). For Torroba the complex classic Luisa Fernanda (1932) was followed by a long series of works including the almost equally celebrated La chulapona (1934). For Torroba's rival Pablo Sorozábal they wrote several librettos, including No me olvides (1935) and his greatest triumph, the fishing port melodrama La tabernera del puerto (1936).

After the Civil War they continued to write for both Torroba and Sorozábal. Torroba's Monte Carmelo (1939) may be marred for modern tastes by its heavy religiosity, but the comedy scenes are fresh and lively. The more secular pieces they provided for Sorozábal, such as Cuidado con la pintura (1939) did not enjoy comparable exposure, or the approval of the authorities. Ultimately, the unhappy feud between these two composers led in 1948 to a cooling in Romero and Shaw's relationship, personal as well as professional - though the private breach was not allowed to affect their continued financial and artistic triumph in the sight of the public. For the range and consistent quality of their work Romero and Shaw stand as the most successful and imaginative literary collaborators not just in the 20th century, but in the history of the zarzuela.

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