Ópera y Teatro musical
'La mala sombra' & 'El mal de amores'
Miguel Roa García
José Serrano (Sueca, Valencia, 14-X-1873; Madrid, 8-III-1941) is one of the most popular Spanish composers of stage music of the twentieth century. After moving to Madrid in 1895, he triumphed in this city with famous works including La reina mora, Moros y cristianos, El trust de los tenorios, La canción del olvido and La Dolorosa.
José Serrano began training as a musician in one of the two bands his father conducted. He furthered his studies at the Conservatorio de Valencia, where he studied with Salvador Giner, the teacher of many Valencian composers. He soon became involved in the theatrical world as a violinist in the Teatro Principal orchestra, following in the footsteps of many other zarzuela composers such as Barbieri, Chapí, Valverde and Bretón. The orchestral pit was thus his best school.
Early references to Serrano define him as fairly undisciplined, bohemian and lazy composer and a natural talent, a credible view given Vives’s famous remark: “If Serrano knew anything else apart from solfeggio, he would be the only composer in Spain to eat”.
Serrano did not have a solid academic training. He never travelled overseas or wrote theoretical treatises, but that did not impede him from negotiating his way through the rich and complex zarzuela world of the time, which was just what Serrano was looking for when he left Sueca.
Valencia was the third most important capital of zarzuela after Madrid and Barcelona and Serrano was born in a zone steeped in the zarzuela tradition, which had also given rise to José Valero, Carlos Llorens, Vicente Lleó, Peydró, among others. The city thus enjoyed an intense theatrical life, which was not limited to hosting travelling companies, but generated a production of its own. Over 200 works were premiered in Valencia, in theatres such as the Botiga de la Balda, Principal, Delicias, Tívoli, Peral, Pizarro, Ruzafa, Apolo, Colón, Lírico, Nostre Teatre, Novedades, Princesa, Regües and Serrano.
The composer’s early works, premiered in his native Sueca, were none other than an attempt to try out his talent and aptitude for the zarzuela genre. In 1895 he moved to Madrid with the experience gained from these works and the will to succeed. Over the years he contributed approximately 50 zarzuelas to the genre, some of which continue to be performed, conserving their value throughout the Spanish-speaking world. These include the above-mentioned La reina mora, Moros y cristianos, El trust de los tenorios, La canción del olvido and La Dolores, as well as Los claveles, Las hilanderas, Los de Aragón and Alma de Dios.
Serrano’s early years in Madrid were years of hardship, disappointments and, above all, difficulties in premiering works. Federico Romero noted that the initial stages of Serrano’s life in the capital were spent: “composing songs that he sold for 10 duros, playing the violin in theatre orchestras, filling in for permanent members, while receiving a small amount of assistance from Sueca… Of course, he often visited the Vapor and Naranjeros coffee houses, in which he captured the cadences and rhythms of the popular music of Andalusia, his early works La mazorca roja, La Reina mora, El mal de amores and others, were Andalusian to the bone”.
The year after his arrival in the capital he joined the Círculo Valenciano, working as a theatre critic in the periodical El Saloncillo. This allowed him to gain a better understanding of the theatrical world and brought him into contact with other composers who could help him establish his career as a composer of stage-music. Serrano found his way out of this precarious situation in 1900, when the Quintero brothers presenting him with the libretto to an entremés entitled El motete, with only three musical numbers, which was a huge success. El motete pertains to the género chico, a sub-genre the composer would contine to explore prior to turning to operetta and the revue. In regard to Serrano’s early works, Rafael Díaz observed: “The types of works Serrano pursued at the beginning of his career were those that fitted into the nineteenth-century género chico tradition. These were the works that most resembled Spanish popular music, and probably, the freshest of his whole output. Although these works were not always easily adapted to popular taste (for example, he hardly uses rhythms that were in fashion, which were almost always danceable and came from abroad, at least not when he worked alone), he often knew how to please his audience. During the first third of his career, he delved into the possibilities Spanish popular music had to offer in order to improve the quality of his zarzuelas. And when Serrano assimilated the foreign, he did so using nineteenth-century rhythms (waltzes or habaneras) in preference to modern ones”.
Serrano gained a first-rate reputation in Madrid due to the resounding success of various works: El corneta de órdenes, La mazorca roja, El olivar and El solo de trompa. This was especially true of the works he presented in 1905: El mal de amores, Moros y cristianos, El contrabando, El perro chico, La reja de la Dolores and El amor en solfa. The composition of Moros y cristianos, as well as the two sainetes published here, El mal de amores (1905) and La mala sombra (1906), both premiered at the Teatro Apolo, were central to the success of their young composer.
El mal de amores and La mala sombra pertain to Serrano’s early period. This was an extremely prolific period, given that he premiered as many as seven works a year, negating the image of Serrano as being a lazy composer, at least during this early period.
Both works are defined by the abundance of music based on models from Spanish popular music. In his writings Serrano clearly explained his aesthetic ideology: for him Spanish music was “the most beautiful in the world… Popular songs contain poetic treasures that have yet to be exploited. Saint-Saëns was amazed that in such a small area like Spain, there could be so many different and such varied sources of musical inspiration. From the Basque zortziko to the Galician alborada: from the sardana to the jota, there are very few kilometres. But what a difference! In my opinion, Andalusia has the richest assortment of songs: soleares, seguidillas and malagueñas are all Andalusian. Could there be anything more different?” And he went on to add: “In general, our composers are poorly orientated… There are those who are very talented, like Conrado del Campo, Rogelio Villar and Vicente Arregui. But they have joined the school of Debussy, Dukas and Vicent D’Indy, instead of basing their works on folksongs and listening to Chapí, our great composer”. Such national music, especially with Andalusian features, characterises both works published here. They are also defined by their lack of experimentalism.
The aesthetic principles dominating Serrano’s music and which help us to understand these two works are a refined nationalism and, more specifically, a movement created at the beginning of the twentieth century known as regionalism. Despite being Valencian, Serrano was especially receptive to the influence of Andalusian music. Vidal Corella points out that Serrano became familiar with Andalusian rhythms and melodic patterns “during his bohemian years in Madrid at the Teatro de la Alhambra, the Salón Actualidades and the tablaos of the coffee houses in Montera, Atocha and Hortaleza Streets… and in the Teatro de la Zarzuela itself. It was there that the leading comic actor Pablo Arana performed Andalusian song with impeccable style. Two excellent guitarists: Miguel Borrull and Amalio Cuenca, friends and admirers of Serrano, also met in his dressing room. Serrano came to hear them perform, as well as the actor, who sang in a hushed tone, taking advantage of the breaks in his performances on stage. Sometimes Serrano himself reached for the guitar and accompanied the vocalist: ‘Pablo, in soleares’”.
These Andalusian features, characteristic of both works, were first seen prior to 1902, with the premiere of La mazorca roja, Serrano’s first successful work with an Andalusian setting. But more decisive was his meeting with the Álvarez Quintero brothers, with whom he would compose six works. The presence of Andalusian elements was increased in La reina mora (1903) and reached a climax in El mal de amores and La mala sombra. The majority of the numbers are replete with music containing Andalusian characteristics, not just the scenes set in Andalusia, as the composer included the ornaments, melismas, patterns, cries, cadences and scales typical of Andalusian music wherever he could.
Both scores consist of a short orchestral introduction and four musical numbers. Thus, they strictly pertain to the so-called género chico. Unlike works such as La verbena de la Paloma or Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, they are small-scale compositions, defined by short, normally uni-sectional musical numbers. The spirit of the ballad or song prevails over that of the romanza, and there is a clear predominance of speech over music. Other elements include a simple, yet effective harmony, the alternation of the parallel major and minor; an orchestra whose main role is to support the voice, without timbral audacity, efficaciously providing colour; regular rhythms and very singable vocal lines, favouring middle registers and small intervallic leaps. The work is filled with Andalusian ornaments cadences and patterns.
El mal de amores begins after various orchestral bars, which pre-empt some of the musical motives. This is followed by the duet between the Gypsy and Mariquilla, a trio sung by Mariquilla, Antoñillo and Carola, followed by another duet between Carola and Rafael, ending with a final scene.
The work’s value initially went unrecognised with audiences and critics rejecting it. Notwithstanding, it is an excellent satire with very clever dialogues and reflects the Álvarez Quintero brothers’ customary theatrical expertise. The audience also rejected José Serrano’s music. Not knowing how to criticise him, some went as far as to say that the work sounded excessively like Serrano. In spite of everything, audiences began to warm to the work night after night and it eventually held pride of place on the bill for some time.
José de Laserna, the critic from El Imparcial, observed: “Maestro Serrano, who is one of the most legitimate hopes of our artistic youth, hasn’t been very successful with the music to El mal de amores either. The best part of the score is the duet between the Gypsy and the innkeeper’s daughter, with reminiscences of La reina mora. There is a clear orchestral and melodic poverty in the other numbers. The audience has not differed in this regard over three nights, delighting in the duet and remaining indifferent to the rest of the work”. With his negative view of this music, it is likely that this critic began to note a certain repetition in Serrano’s style, as the score to El mal de amores reused forms from earlier works. However, Serrano cannot be accused of melodic poverty because, as mentioned above, it is precisely in this aspect of composition that the Valencian composer excels. Serrano was a very rich composer in regard to the conception of melodies and he considered the melodic side of composition fundamental: “in my opinion, technique should be the art of harmonising the melody, not the artifice used to dissimulate the absence of a melodic line”.
The critic of the Heraldo de Madrid had a different opinion of the music to El mal de amores: “The score composed by the young maestro Serrano is very nice, melancholic and dreamy, once again doing credit to his mastery of orchestral techniques and the loftiest inspiration in the melody”. And more importantly, in the long run the audience willingly received the work, just as Chispero noted: “The audience’s opinion of El mal de amores improved night after night and it went on to fill an honorary position on the bill. There were encores during many performances and of course it would go on to form part of the classic repertory of the género chico”.
La mala sombra is a work of very similar characteristics to the El mal de amores, with music that perfectly suits the sainete. Although critics put the work’s success down to the libretto, the score contains the same levels of wit and spontaneity. The musical structure is the same as that of El mal de amores, with a short orchestral introduction containing Andalusian motives, divided into various sections, which foreshadows some of the subsequent musical motives. Serrano reveals his talent for portraying characters and situations using just a few broad outlines in all the numbers. The music helps to sustain the work’s continuous humour, such as the point at which Curro Meloja sings a few verses in which every word is pronounced with the vowel “u”. Following the premiere, critics observed that it was not one of those works along the lines of a more risqué revue, although they did point to an excess of comic situations. In his review of the premiere, Chispero observed that “the jokes (natural, fast, comic situations more than plays on words) soon became popular all over Spain. It was very rare to see the audience’s total acquiescence for a regional work. The curtain went up 18 times at the end of the work! Needless to say during the month of October the Apolo was a sellout every night during the first and last sessions, as two performances of La mala sombra were given as of the day after its premiere”.
The Libretto and its Authors
Serafín (Utrera, Seville, 26-III-1871; Madrid, 12-IV-1938) and Joaquín (Utrera, Seville, 21-I-1873; Madrid, 14-VI-1944) Álvarez Quintero were undoubtedly two of the best sainete-writers in Spain. From 1889, the year in which Gilito was premiered, until 1938, the year of Serafín’s death, they premiered over 200 theatrical pieces of a very diverse nature, including juguetes, entremeses, sainetes, comic zarzuelas, apropósitos, pasos de comedia, pasillos, dramatic poems, comedies and some dramas.
Their first notable success was La buena sombra, with music by Apolinar Brull, in 1898. The Andalusian sainete La reina mora (1903), with music by José Serrano, confirmed the success of the formula used by the Sevillian team of comedy-writers, which consisted of naturalistic and naive realism, psychological-moral features, and a language typified in dialogues and comic situations. This formula was based on their unceasing dedication and a style that remained basically unaltered throughout their career. In regard to their intellectual and creative teamwork, Sainz de Robles highlights that “Both created a theatre about predominantly Andalusian customs and manners. It was superficial, but full of wit and charm, with picturesque characters that were very similar to each other. They brought a clichéd Andalusia to the stage. The preferred ambiences in which their characters were set in well-off, aristocratic or bourgeois circles where, seemingly, there were no problems other than sentimental ones”.
The Quinteros’ theatre emerged from the fin-de-siècle sainete, its grotesque humour and vulgar stereotypes being transformed into the pure description of Andalusian customs, in the pursuit of emotion as opposed to laughter. They raised the literary standard of dialogues, relegating complicated plots and melodramatic intrigues to a second plane, allowing their works to retain their popularity today.
Audiences appreciated both El mal de amores and La mala sombra, particularly the libretto, as they were true sainetes reflecting the theatrical mastery of the Quintero brothers, their ingenious portrayal of popular Andalusian characters and traditions in nimble dialogues, full of comic situations.
El mal de amores.
One act. The action takes place at a small, remote inn owned by Cristóbal and his young daughter Mariquilla. Legend has it that there is a well at the inn whose water cures love sickness. Some guards arrive at the inn with a prisoner, the gypsy lady Amapola. She tells Mariquilla why she was detained. Later, a beautiful and sad woman called Carola arrives. She has arranged to meet Rafael, the man she loves there, and elope with him, fleeing the rich boyfriend she is being forced to marry. The latter arrives at the inn with his uncle in search of Carola, but Rafael stages his own violent death, assisted by Mariquilla and her boyfriend Antoñillo, and they are scared away. Thus, the lovers are free to marry. The water from the well has worked for them, but not for Don Lope, an old crock who fancies himself as an infallible conqueror and does nothing but constantly make a fool of himself.
La mala sombra.
One act. The action is set in rainy Seville inside a shoe-polishing store that sells snacks and refreshments, run by Baldomero. Any business he starts up is ruined by his bad luck and his new shop doesn’t seem to be an exception: two crafty students come in and swindle him. A lottery seller calls out her numbers out of tune because she is deaf. The owner winds up mistaking a visitor for a corrupt policeman. A bully, nicknamed Taburete, drives away customers because he is insanely jealous of Pepa, his girlfriend, who works in the shop. Three sombre one–eyed men curse him. A superstitious novice bullfighter is frightened by the spell of the three one-eyed men. Children make fun of Baldomero’s proverbial bad luck and finally there is Curro Meloja, who thinks he is charming and will be able to attract many customers, but is in fact extremely dull. When all seems lost, Angelillo the bootblack reorganises the shop, dismissing all those who inconvenience and burden the business. Angelillo promises Baldomero that he will get the business back on its feet within a month and in exchange asks for his daughter Leonor’s hand in marriage. Baldomero agrees. From now on, the shop will be known as La buena sombra (The Lucky Shop).
The musical sources of Serrano’s works are scattered throughout various archives. Some works have even been lost, as is the case with La mala sombra. The critical edition has therefore been based on the following sources:
-orchestral material held at the archives of the SGAE (MMO-2661). These materials include the short score and the orchestral parts, all published by the SAE.
-the vocal score published by S. Vidal Llimona y Boceta (V.Ll. y B. 901-5).
The following musical sources have conserved for El mal de amores:
-a manuscript full score, held at the family archive, which is unsigned, but is undoubtedly in Serrano’s hand. This manuscript consists of 153 pages and the notation is extremely clear.
-orchestral material conserved at the archive of the SGAE (MMO-2487), including a manuscript vocal-piano reduction, a short score published by the SAE, a manuscript short score and manuscript parts.
Apart from the above-mentioned editions, various excerpts from both works were also published. Ildefonso Alier (I.A. 1222) published a piano reduction of the Tango from La mala sombra, the zarzuela’s most successful number. Both works were also included in a selection of the composer’s works published in piano-vocal reduction, Colección completa de las obras musicales de José Serrano, Madrid, Mott, 1912.
Sources of the Libretto
The following editions have been consulted and compared:
- El mal de amores. Sainete de Serafín y Joaquín Álvarez Quintero. Música de José Serrano. Biblioteca Teatral, Saso ed., 1904. 40 pages. This edition is held at the archive of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores, catalogue number LIB 12/98. Another edition by the Sociedad de Autores y Editores (SAE), published in 1905 and consisting of 58 pages, is also held at the same archive under the same catalogue number. Finally, the edition printed by R. Velasco Impresor, Madrid, 1905, 46 pages, held at the same archive, catalogue number CR 299/7004.
- La mala sombra. Sainete de Serafín y Joaquín Álvarez Quintero. Música de José Serrano. R. Velasco, Madrid, 1905. 46 pages. Dedicated to Vital Aza by the authors. Catalogue number 32/25; Madrid, Sociedad de Autores Españoles, 1906, 46 pages. Held at the archive of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores, catalogue number LIB 32/25; Biblioteca Teatral, Saso, año IV, no. 77, 33 pages, catalogue number LIB 32/25. The three editions include a dedication by the authors “to the Artists of the Teatro Apolo, who put so much effort, thought and care into performing this sainete, and who in the short space of 24 hours, magically transformed the disgust of a complete failure into the joy of a truly satisfactory success”.
Spelling corresponding to the pronunciation imitating popular Andalusian speech has been respected in the edition of the libretto. All words containing a “y” instead of “ll” have been standardised and amended, according to present-day pronunciation criteria. Different type has not been used to reflect Andalusian speech because this would hinder rather than clarify its comprehension, due to its widespread use.
Notes have been used to show the differences between the editions of the libretto and the text given in the score. Suspension points in square brackets indicate the repetition of verses in the score that are not repeated in the libretto. Likewise, fragments of text presented in square brackets indicate additions or alterations have been made, with the text given in the musical sources prevailing and the text from the original edition given in footnotes.
English translation by Yolanda Acker
Cited in R. Díaz Gómez: “Serrano”, Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana, Madrid, SGAE, 2000, vol. 9, p. 949. The most complete study of José Serrano’s stage works is R. Díaz Gómez, V. Galbis López: La producción zarzuelística de José Serrano, Ajuntament de Sueca, 1999.
F. Romero: “Remembranza de José Serrano”, in Serafín y Joaquín Álvarez Quintero, Azorín, Enrique García Álvarez y José Serrano, Madrid, SGAE, 1973, p. 70.
R. Díaz Gómez: “Serrano Simeón, José”, Diccionario de la zarzuela. España e Hispanoamérica, Madrid, ICCMU, 2003, vol. 2, pp. 754-755.El Caballero Audaz: “Nuestra visitas. El maestro Serrano”, La Esfera, no. 18, Madrid, 2-V-1914.
V. Vidal Corella: El maestro Serrano y los felices tiempos de la zarzuela, Valencia, Prometeo, 1973.
“Apolo. El mal de amores”, Heraldo de Madrid, 30-I-1905.
F. C. Sainz de Robles: Ensayo de un diccionario de la literatura, Madrid, Aguilar, 1953