About this Recording
8.573515-16 - DOMÍNGUEZ, J.L.: Legend of Joaquín Murieta (The) [Ballet] (Santiago Philharmonic, J.L Domínguez)
English  Spanish 

José Luis Domínguez (b. 1971)
The Legend of Joaquín Murieta


One of the most enriching roles in the music world, when it comes to discovering the many secrets hidden within a score, must be that of the conductor. In absorbing a work by studying it for hour after hour, identifying every atom in its make-up in order to bring it to life on stage, he or she will always be caught up in an ongoing experience of self-education, the reflection and inspiration involved in which will open up all kinds of unexpected new paths.

José Luis Domínguez is one of the most highly sought-after conductors in Chile. For over a decade now he has been Resident Conductor at Santiago’s Teatro Municipal, and his work there—presiding over opera and ballet productions as well as orchestral concerts—has also resulted in his taking his first steps as a composer. Fascinated by the process of orchestration ever since he began studying music, and having spent years immersed in the orchestrations of the great composers as he established himself as a conductor, he was inspired to put his own musical ideas down on paper and take advantage of the resources offered by a full symphony orchestra.

Having completed a few shorter pieces and a number of especially commissioned orchestrations, in late 2008 Domínguez decided to devote himself to creating a large-scale symphonic work that would satisfy his compositional curiosity. Initially he thought of this project as an “exercise in orchestration” but, inspired by his work with the Santiago Ballet Company (the Teatro Municipal’s resident company), he chose to write a full-length classical ballet, allowing him to experiment with the timeless technique of the leitmotif, among other musical resources.

Domínguez was keen for his score to work as a stand-alone piece, without the choreography, which is why he drew on the genre of the film soundtrack for inspiration—not the kind of assembly-line incidental music so widely used in the industry today, but the great symphonic tradition of film music as represented by John Williams and Bernard Herrmann, or by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner and Miklós Rózsa, all of whom were trained in the classical European tradition. As he began work on both the score itself and the plot, he initially thought of basing his ballet around the fictional character of Zorro, star of dozens of stories, films and TV series. While this is very much an “action ballet”, however, Domínguez changed his mind during the composition process and decided to centre his plot on the historical figure seen as the main inspiration behind Zorro, the nineteenth-century Californian brigand Joaquín Murieta.

Murieta’s origins are disputed: according to some sources he was born in Sonora, Mexico, but others say that he came from Quillota, Chile. Chileans have long claimed him as one of their own, especially since poet Pablo Neruda immortalised him in a play entitled Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta (The Splendour and Death of Joaquín Murieta), which was later made into an opera by composer Sergio Ortega. Domínguez borrows some of Neruda’s characters and his image of Murieta as the Robin Hood of the Gold Rush, but the similarities between the two works end there. The inherent political message of Neruda’s play is absent in Domínguez’s version of Murieta’s story, as is the bandit’s violent death (decapitation after being shot). By the end of 2009, the two-act ballet The Legend of Joaquín Murieta was complete.


The composer emphasises that his music can be enjoyed without any knowledge of the plot, but a summary of the action will no doubt be of interest to listeners. The ballet is set in California during the Gold Rush of the mid-nineteenth century, which was also when the former Mexican territory was ceded to the USA. At the time, there were still many families of Spanish origin in California, hence the use of Hispanic musical motifs here. The Prologue (CD 1 [1]) introduces the heroic theme associated with the protagonist. The people of a small Californian settlement, many of them immigrants from South America, are going about their everyday activities (CD 1 [2]). Among their number is Teresa (CD 1 [3]), Joaquín Murieta’s beautiful Chilean wife: the two met onboard ship during the voyage from Valparaíso. Then we see the arrival of the Galgos (The Hounds) (CD 1 [4]), a North American gang of vigilantes whose main objective is to harass the immigrants and Native Americans. After confronting the townsfolk they leave, but take two Mexicans with them as hostages. Joaquín Murieta then appears (CD 1 [5]), and the people tell him what has happened. He goes back home and dances a romantic pas de deux with Teresa (CD 1 [6]), after which she begs him not to risk his own life by trying to rescue the two Mexicans.

Murieta asks his friend Tresdedos for help (CD 1 [7]). Night falls, and the townsfolk return to their homes (CD 1 [8]). In the courtyard of the house owned by the leader of the Galgos, the “Caballero Tramposo” (Trickster) appears (CD 1 [9]). A member of the gang, he is a symbolic character invented by Neruda to represent all the vices and negative aspects of North American society. Brandishing a bottle of wine, he is drunk, having just emerged from the party going on inside. Murieta enters stealthily (CD 1 [10]) and frees the prisoners. One of the Galgos discovers his presence and sounds the alarm. A fight breaks out between Murieta, a skilled swordsman, and the gang members, who are too drunk to be able to catch him. Tresdedos is waiting for him near the house, and they and the hostages escape together.

Act Two begins with Murieta and Tresdedos discussing the success of the previous night’s rescue (CD 2 [1]). Murieta now disguises himself as a Native American, as the leader of the Galgos arrives in town looking for those responsible for the attack on his home (CD 2 [2]). The townsfolk are preparing for a local fiesta (CD 2 [3], and the wives of Murieta’s followers now appear (CD 2 [4]). The Galgos’ leader appears, trying to find new clues about the identity of his attacker, and flirts with one of the women, who is unaware that he is an enemy (CD 2 [5]). An intimate Interlude follows (CD 2 [6]), reflecting Teresa’s concerns for Joaquín’s fate.

The town festivities begin (CD 2 [7]) and a local Spanish nobleman invites everybody to come and drink a toast in his home (CD 2 [8]). The Galgos intend to seize this opportunity to attack the house and take their revenge, but Murieta, still in disguise, discovers their plan (CD 2 [9]). Just as they are preparing to attack, Murieta gives the signal and his men come out of hiding and engage them in battle (CD 2 [10]). Teresa then appears, horrified by the danger facing Joaquín. His men win the day, however, and the Galgos run away (CD 2 [11]). Teresa and Joaquín dance another pas de deux, and are soon joined by the rest of the townsfolk, Murieta’s men and the Spanish nobleman. In the Epilogue (CD 2 [12]), the people acclaim Murieta as their hero as the theme introduced in the Prologue is heard again.

Álvaro Gallegos
English translation: Prema Kesselman

Close the window