La Canción del olvido

José Serrano

La Canción del olvido

About this work

La canción del olvido is a Spanish zarzuela in one act to a libretto by two authors, Federico Romero, and Guillermo Fernandez Shaw. This was an early collaboration of Romero and Shaw, who submitted it to its already famous composer, a leading representative of the popular género chico, in 1912. Serrano accepted the project immediately. The work took several years to compose, and then Serrano ran into difficulty with the Sociedad de autores españoles during its production. La canción del olvido was scheduled to be premiered in Madrid at the Apolo Theater in February 1916. The Sociedad protested the production because of a breach with the composer that had begun in 1915, and Serrano was forced to take his score to the city of Valencia. There he rented a cinema that he had converted into the Teatro Lirico, formed his own company, and directed the premiere himself. La canción del olvido premiered on November 17, 1916. It was a tremendous popular and critical success, primarily due to the beauty of the score, which is filled with passionate, sensual music that embodies the very definition of the Spanish concept of "machismo." The orchestrations are skillfully wrought, with rich, sweet harmonies, and numerous nuances of color. The 11 numbers center around two main characters, a lyric soprano and a baritone, with a third, minor character written for tenor that enlivens the texture. There is a chorus and a scene of Spanish street musicians playing bandurrías and steel-stringed lutes in the second act. Two of the soprano's numbers are full Italian arias that recall the zarzuela's indebtedness to the traditions of Bellini. An element of verismo appears in the vocal writing and creates the dramatic tension of the music, and the use of recurring melodic motifs acts as a cohesive force throughout the score. The tradition of the zarzuela had been in severe decline before the premiere of this beautiful work. The popular reception of Serrano's masterpiece was deliriously enthusiastic. The short, one-act opera played to full houses daily, and many numbers were given several encores, particularly the piece called "Soldado de Napoles." Eventually, news of the success of La canción del olvido reached Madrid, and an enterprising impresario agreed to have it staged there. The Madrid premiere took place at the Teatro de la Zarzuela on March 1, 1918. Serrano presented himself as an independent composer, standing outside the prestigious Sociedad de autores. He had had no work performed in the city of Madrid for several years because of his breach with the other authors, and the public welcomed him home with open arms. He was mobbed by the affectionate crowds, and every number was given an ovation and several encores.

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