|About this Recording
8.660144-45 - GRANADOS, E.: María del Carmen [Opera] (Veronese, Suaste, Wexford Festival Opera Chorus, Belarussian National Philharmonic, Bragado-Darman)
Enrique Granados (1867–1916)
Opera in Three Acts
Critical Edition: Max Bragado-Darman
María del Carmen – Diana Veronese, Soprano
Whether Enrique Granados should be regarded as a Spanish or as a Catalan composer has been the subject of some discussion. He was born in Lerida (Lleida in Catalan), the capital of the least Catalan province of the four that make up Catalonia, and the name of the present opera, María del Carmen, is profoundly Castilian. This fact, and the opera’s plot to the libretto by Barcelona playwright Jose Feliu i Codina, were what provoked strong reproaches from the Catalanista world in which Granados was living and in which, in some ways, he actively participated.
Granados achieved his first great operatic success with María del Carmen, in which the action is set far from Catalonia in Murcia, in the south-east of Spain. From its premiere in the Teatro de Parish in Madrid on 11th November 1898, conducted by the composer, the opera was very well received. The critics emphasized its fine orchestral writing and the profound lyricism of its popular melodies. The success of the premiere is demonstrated by its run of nineteen performances. It remained in the Madrid repertoire until 9th January 1899, when Queen Maria Cristina awarded Granados the Charles III Cross in recognition of his creative work.
Its appearance in Catalonia, on 31st May 1899, in the Teatro Tivoli in Barcelona, was less of a triumph: a pro-Catalanista section of the audience demonstrated their rejection of the work by whistling and by shouts of angry protest. They were indignant that Granados had distanced himself from Catalan culture and had used neither a Catalan plot nor Catalan music. Hence it is not surprising that a Barcelona critic suggested that the only applause at the premiere came from a claque, hired for the occasion. They also criticised Granados for his choice of libretto. Less partial elements of the Catalan press, however, praised the orchestration and the dramatic sense of the music.
For all the petty intrigue, María del Carmen had eleven performances in the Tivoli, and there was even a brief revival at the end of 1899. After a few performances in Valencia, probably instigated by his father-in-law, the influential impresario Francesc Gal, the opera was not performed again until December 1935, when it was revived in Barcelona with the famous soprano Conchita Badia under the baton of Joan Lamote de Grignon. Since then the work which Granados himself considered his best opera has been largely ignored until today.
María del Carmen was created at an important time in Catalan culture. In the Spain of the mid-1880s, modernism was a lively cultural movement that in Catalonia crystallized the ideals of the ‘Renaixença’. Modernism completely dominated the cultural and musical life of Catalonia and Barcelona, which was then much more avant-garde than Madrid, a city dominated by zarzuela and farce, and deaf to the crisis that the decadent Kingdom of Spain was going through as its last colonies, the Philippines and Cuba, gained their independence in 1898. People such as the architects Domenech i Montaner and Gaudi, the painters Casas, Hugue, Nonell, Picasso and Rusinol, writers such as Maragall, Mestres and Miralles, or musicians such as Albeniz, Morera, Pedrell, and Granados (who also painted), were all main actors in this unique movement in Catalan culture. It was defined by Federico de Onis as the Spanish form of the universal crisis and spirit that around 1885 heralded the dissolution of the nineteenth century. Granados, however, brought up in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and married to the Valencian Amparo Gal Llobera, was one of modernism’s less radical exponents.
At this time Catalonia and its capital Barcelona were in cultural ferment. Many modernist societies emerged whose main objective was to cultivate and promote Catalan folk-music. Works such as the symphonic poem Catalonia (1899) by Albeniz, and the lyric trilogy Els Pirineus (1902) by Pedrell, were part of this trend. Granados, too, would actively cultivate Catalan music in stage works such as Blancaflor, to a libretto by the poet Adria Gual, Petrarca, Picarol, Follet and Gaziel (all four to texts by Apel・les Mestres), in songs such as Cançó d’amor, L’ocell profeta, Elegia eterna and Cant de les estrelles; and above all, the stage poem Liliana, a mature work first given on 9th June 1911 and representing the culmination of his uneven relationship with the modernist movement.
Although Granados distanced himself from the political elements in Catalan nationalism, he nevertheless had strong aesthetic and social ties with his cultural environment. These ties were integral to him not only as a musician but also as an amateur painter and a man who loved literature. His admiration for the Wagnerian world, which had a firm following in Catalonia, inevitably brought him closer to modernism, and to collaboration with the Barcelona Wagner Society, and even inspired a piano piece Eva y Walther. The influence of Wagner on Catalan artists and society was strong and Wagnerism underlies some of Granados’s works, with the importance given to the orchestra, and the absence of the conventional divisions between arias and dialogue, familiar to the public from zarzuelas.
It was the lot of Granados to live at a time when avantgarde trends in Barcelona were extraordinarily active, probably to a much greater extent than he, with his conservative background, could assimilate. Perhaps because of this, and despite his determined involvement in Barcelona’s developing aesthetic trends, he was always regarded by his colleagues as a conservative incapable of really understanding the renewing dynamics then at work.
At bottom, and as his teacher Felipe Pedrell observed, Granados was a composer unwilling to bow to any predetermined formula. Like Albeniz, he wrote solely on the basis of his own judgement, free of any aesthetic compromise. Hence it is not easy to define theoretical coordinates where his style and manner of composition are concerned. He certainly did absorb influences during his stay in Paris, where he met musicians associated with the Schola Cantorum, Vincent d’Indy and Camille Saint-Saens in particular. He mixed this legacy with his enthusiasm for the German Romanticism which formed a large part of his repertoire as a pianist.
Nevertheless his music does not follow the formal structure of thematic development so characteristic of German repertoire. It conforms more to the characteristic formula of Spanish poetry, returning again and again to the same idea but from different perspectives. Thus he tended to repeat melodies more than he developed them, adding different and increasingly brilliant decoration to each repetition. Generally less chromatic than Franck or Wagner, his elaborate harmonic schemes confer a distinction and brilliance to his style that bring it close to the works of those two composers, both of whom he admired very much. His music is always refined and extremely elegant.
Like Wagner, Granados frequently uses the devices of self-quotation and thematic references to other works. Without actually creating a true scheme of leitmotifs, he often links harmonies and melodic motifs with specific dramatic events, thereby conferring a Wagnerian flavour to certain works, including María del Carmen, which must be ranked with Goyescas as among the best operas of a composer who always felt a fervent and intense vocation for the lyric theatre.
Granados remains imperfectly known and understood as a composer. Not even his Catalan and Spanish countrymen can come to any agreement on him. For some he is the last Romantic, for others the Spanish Chopin, and for others, the Spanish Grieg. Whatever the truth, he is the most important Spanish composer of his time, together with his countrymen Isaac Albeniz and the Cadiz-born Manuel de Falla. That other Catalan, Pablo Casals, once compared these three geniuses of Spanish and worldwide music. The great cellist said that the most original and poetic inspiration belongs to Granados, de Falla he considered the best composer, and Albeniz the most advanced. He was probably right.
Spanish musicologist Justo Romero has published more than 5,000 articles, reviews and essays. Former editor of Scherzo magazine, critic and music editor of El País and El Mundo newspapers, from 2005 to 2014 he was the Dramaturg of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia. His books include Sevilla en la ópera, Albéniz, Falla, Cristóbal Halffter, ese silencio que escucho, Chopin, Raíces de futuro, El Gato Montés, and El piano 52+36.
The action takes place in a rural village in Spain’s southeastern province of Murcia, a region afflicted with water shortages. It is one such shortage which opens up the hostility between Javier and Pencho. The pre-action to the opera is a fight between the two men. On the surface the fight is about water, but their mutual hatred is enhanced by social difference. Javier is the son of Domingo, wealthy and influential, warily respected in the community, whereas Pencho is from a poor background. It is Javier, however, who is seriously wounded in the fight. Pencho flees to North Africa and goes into hiding in Oran. Meanwhile, hoping to secure a pardon for her sweetheart Pencho, Maria del Carmen nurses the injured Javier.
CD 1: Act I
 Preludio. Voices are heard off-stage, singing to the Blessed Virgin.  It is time for Mass in the village. Roque and other young men enter, followed by Andres.  They are joined by Anton, with the mayor’s wand of office. The conversation of the men turns to Pencho in his selfimposed exile.  They are joined by the wise old Pepuso, who is fiercely attached to old Murcian ways.  Anton leaves, and Pepuso continues. He believes that Pencho was the only brave man among them, leaving the rest ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. He would like Pencho to return, and has sent him a letter which he believes will bring Pencho back.  Don Fulgencio enters. We hear that the priest is ill, as is Javier, whose betrothed is collecting money for a Mass for him.
 Maria arrives, accompanied by her friend Fuensanta, collecting coins to pay for a Mass to be offered for the recovery of Javier. Pepuso, whose sympathies lie with Pencho whom he believes Maria has abandoned in favour of her patient, snarls that he would contribute if the Mass were a Requiem, while the other villagers express pity for Maria.  Don Fulgencio leaves to see his patient, the priest, followed by the others, but Maria detains Pepuso, asking him for news of Pencho. He berates her for her betrayal, whereupon she convinces him that she remains true to Pencho, only tending to Javier in order to secure Pencho’s pardon. Pepuso, satisfied, swears on his ‘homeland and faith’ that he will stand by her.
 Now Maria comes to Javier and his father, Domingo, who sets off to find the doctor.  Once the two are alone, Javier professes his love: ‘You are the beautiful flower that perfumes my sad life’. She affirms her love for Pencho, to which he responds with a question: why did she not just leave him to die? So that, she answers, she might ask for forgiveness for Pencho. Javier says he will never give it.
 Next, Domingo speaks with Maria.  He has spoken to the doctor and believes that only Maria’s love can save his son. When Maria refuses, Domingo informs her that he has the weapon with which Pencho inflicted Javier’s wound, sufficient incriminating evidence to ensure a death sentence. Maria still refuses.  Suddenly Fuensanta arrives with the news that Pencho is in the village. Maria begs Domingo not to have him arrested.  Domingo says he will ensure Pencho’s freedom only if Maria promises to marry Javier. She gives her word.  The procession enters, singing to the Blessed Virgin.  Pencho and his friends appear, defying everyone, to the horror of Maria and Fuensanta.
CD 2: Act II
 The act opens with a Preludio.  Domingo and the mayor, Anton, are playing cards. The mayor remarks that Pencho should be arrested, but Domingo declares that the fugitive can now walk free, while Fuensanta dreams of her own betrothed, believing that Maria is sincere in abandoning her old lover.
 Preparations begin for the wedding, discussed by Domingo and Maria’s mother, Concepcion, with Anton.  Their discussion continues, as Anton leaves.  Even Fuensanta is under the impression that it will be a happy occasion for Maria.  Maria pretends that all is well, until, alone, she expresses her private sorrow.
 Pencho arrives. It is the first time that the lovers have been together since the fight a year ago. He is heartbroken for he has heard that Maria is to marry Javier. She explains that she has made a pact with Domingo who, having Pencho’s weapon in his possession, has enough evidence to charge him for Javier’s injury. The pact guarantees Pencho’s freedom. Pencho declares that he does not accept the pact. Maria answers that it is too late. They reaffirm their love for each other.  Javier arrives. The two men argue and threaten each other.  Pepuso interrupts them and takes Pencho away,  while Javier and Maria make to leave together.  Domingo returns with an engagement ring for Javier to give to Maria.  As the wedding preparations continue, Pencho reappears. In a bid to break Maria’s pact with Domingo he confesses publicly to having injured Javier. Javier, realising that this will cost him his bride, refutes the confession, but Pencho is able to recite the words of the Cartagenian song engraved on the weapon which Domingo is holding as evidence. Domingo and the mayor realise they have no choice but to arrest Pencho.  Maria urges him to flee, but Pencho refuses, inviting Maria to make her choice. Javier is outraged, calling Pencho a coward and challenging him to a duel.
Act III]  There is a Prelude.  It is night. Pencho sits alone, while the sound of celebration is heard in the distance.  Maria tells Pencho that the horse is ready for them to flee together,  but Pencho cannot ignore Javier’s insult and will not leave without fighting.  They are interrupted by Javier.  Domingo arrives to prevent the duel, even encouraging Pencho to take his chance and flee.  Next the doctor appears.  He takes Domingo aside and tells him that his son is dying, advising him that marriage would be pointless.  Domingo tells Pencho that he may stay and take the consequences.  Javier overhears and now desires nothing more than to die at Pencho’s hands, but Pencho has cooled and refuses to fight.  Javier at last gives in, asks for the blessing of the lovers, and helps them escape.
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