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• 105 • 5 The Romance of Rural Spain and the Failure of the Restoration Settlement Late in her career, the Spanish soprano Victoria de los Ángeles would often end her recitals with an exciting encore: “La tarántula é un bicho mu malo” from La tempranica, a zarzuela by Gerónimo Giménez. Although she doubtless picked the song for its applause-garnering qualities (fast tempo, rapid-fire lyrics, short duration), it also tapped into a deep vein of Spanish sentiment. While audiences outside of Spain would have failed to appreciate the subtext of Giménez’s song, it could not have escaped de los Ángeles, whose career always remained rooted in the music of her native country. La tempranica tells the story of the Gypsy María, who lives in the mountains outside Granada and pines for the wealthy Don Luis even while engaged to the steadfast Miguel. Eventually María finds out that Don Luis is married, and she vows to make her future marriage to Miguel a success. (Manuel de Falla would use an extremely similar plot and setting, albeit with a tragic ending, a few years later in his seminal opera La vida breve—one of the works that catapulted de los Ángeles to international recognition in the early 1950s.)1 “La tarántula é un bicho mu malo” is sung in the first scene by María’s brother Grabié (a soprano trouser role) and likens falling in love to being bitten by a tarantula. The score of La tempranica is filled with Spanish folk music. Giménez employs flamenco, tangos, and a zapateado (“La tarántula”) to tell most of his story. Then, when the setting moves to the city of Granada in the final scene, this folk music is upended by a waltz, reflecting the prevalence of urban dance music discussed in Chapter 2. But La tempranica, with its Gypsies singing traditional Andalusian folk music around campfires, sounds much more stereotypically “Spanish” than the urban delights of La verbena de la paloma or Agua, azucarillos, y aguardiente. This idealized Spain of charming villages, cheerful peasants, and flamenco-style folk music was being supplanted—to Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 • 106 • the extent that it had ever existed—by the urbanization and industrialization of the country in the late nineteenth century. Nevertheless, there was a heavy sentimental attachment to rural Spain among the zarzuela composers and writers of the género chico. Side-by-side with the sophisticated urban comedies and their up-to-date dance music, Spanish theaters staged sentimental romances set in the countryside among peasants who went off to work every morning singing a chorus. This elegiac subtext may well have struck a deep chord with Victoria de los Ángeles when she sang “La tarántula,” since Spain was undergoing a similar round of modernization at the height of her international fame between the 1950s and the 1970s. Understanding the role that rural Spain played in the development of a modern national identity has been complicated by the concurrent development of Spanish regionalism. During the nineteenth century, at the exact same time that European countries were developing the policies and ideas that put the “nation” in nation-state, vibrant non-statist nationalisms were developing in the peripheral regions of Spain, especially Catalonia and the Basque Country. Not coincidentally, these regions tended to be the most industrialized and urbanized in Spain; the development of regional nationalisms was tied to the feelings of the Catalan and Basque bourgeoisie that the material fruits of their (workers’) labor was being siphoned off to support a government in Madrid that had little interest in industrializing the country.2 These regional nationalisms took even greater root in the twentieth century under the Second Republic, which promised the Catalans and the Basques greater political autonomy. The subsequent backlash under the Franco régime, which attempted to quash regional identities by outlawing the Catalan and Basque languages, only reinforced the idea that regionalism could oppose a corrupt government in Madrid. Regionalism was formally enshrined as a democratic principle in the 1978 constitution, which used the historic claims to regional identity to construct a federalist system that granted autonomy to Spain’s regional governments at a level not seen since the unification of the crowns of Castile and Aragón by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1469. Traditionally, regional identities have been seen as detrimental to the nationalist project in Spain. The weakness of the central government...


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