Cecilia by Gonzalo Roig

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From 1927, zarzuela genre had a period of boom. During this time, it was produced plays like The Girl Rita or Havana on 1800, by Lecuona and Grenet, a work that marks a peak on the history of vernacular lyrical theatre. Among all these works Cecilia Valdés stands up like the most produced lyrical drama.

The outstanding plot inspired maestro Gonzalo Roig to produce Cirilo Villaverde´s work. Agustín Rodríguez —prolific vernacular playwright of his time— together with José Sánchez Arcilla wrote the script, but they found some obstacles like the resemblance of the plot with the just premiered Maria la O by maestro Ernesto Lecuona and the trouble to adapt such a long work into a play. The result was a script in tune with the epoch —the early 30´s— that highlighted the greatest moments on Villaverde´s novel combining jokes and humorous scenes for the crucial couple of a black man and a Galician. The composer used popular ways of our music for the scores. In it he represented old music, Cuban guaracha, habanera, cassava form, guajira, Congo tango of slaves, slow songs and bolero, French march and contredanse.

Cecilia Valdés was premiered at Martí Theatre, on March 26th of 1932, with an unprecedentedly great success. The premiere of the zarzuela composed by Gonzalo Roig, with a script by José Sánchez Arcilla and Agustín Rodríguez, constituted an important event in the history of vernacular musical theatre. But the script by Agustín Rodríguez was too schematic; it insisted on the love story and disregarded interesting moments of Villaverde´s work that showed his most essential purpose: to bear testimony of socio-economic and political reality of his time.

The main limitation of the Arcilla and Rodríguez´s text was the lack of connection between the image of social habits of the time and the fatal love of Cecilia and Leonardo.

The authors reduced the economic and political issue to highlight dramatic conflicts of the sentimental plot of the unfortunate protagonists. The slavery was portrayed, but it was not showed as a basis of the social structure; it was rather like a superficial and colourful landscape, which is a very common fault in zarzuelas. In this way, the main subject was left to a second place, which weakened the actual spirit on the Cirilo Villaverde´s original text. Only the social state of affairs was described well, the economical and political setting was slightly mentioned because it was inevitable for the description of the story.

Nevertheless, the production of this lyrical drama meant a challenge in its time; it exposed the vast communication potentials of lyrical genre. From the musical perspective, it meant an event of great importance; no previous play had such outstanding musical background. The music by Roig combined so well with the dramatic aspect that it became the musical base of all subsequent versions of Cecilia Valdés.

Joanna Castillo

Photo: Gonzalo Roig, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Cecilia by Gonzalo Roig | Havana Streetview

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