Master Peter's Puppet Show
(El retablo de Maese Pedro
) is a puppet-opera
in one act with a prologue
, composed by Manuel de Falla
to a Spanish libretto
based on an episode from Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes
. The libretto is a faithful adaptation of the Cervantes' text, from Chapter 26 of the second part of Don Quixote
, with some words edited. Falla composed this opera "in devoted homage to the glory of Miguel de Cervantes" and dedicated it to the Princess de Polignac, who commissioned the work. Because of its brief length by operatic standards (30 minutes), it is not part of the standard operatic repertoire in the West.
Otto Mayer-Serra has described this opera as a work where Falla reached beyond "Andalusianism" for his immediate musical influence and colour and began the transition into the "Hispanic neo-classicism" of his later works.
In 1919 Winnaretta Singer
, aka la Princesse Edmond de Polignac, commissioned Falla a piece that could be played in her salon, at her own elaborate puppet theater. (Her other commissions included Igor Stravinsky
and Erik Satie
, although neither of those works had its premiere in her private theater.) The work was completed in 1923. Falla decided to set an episode from Cervantes' Don Quixote
which actually depicts a puppet play. He wrote his own libretto, cutting and splicing from chapters 25 and 26 of Part II. It is based on the episode in Don Quixote in which the protagonist watches a puppet show and gets so drawn into the action that he seeks to rescue the damsel in distress, only to destroy poor Master Peter's puppet theater in the process.
Falla's original plan for the Princess's theater was a two-tiered, play-within-a-play approach - large puppets representing Quixote, Master Peter, and the others in attendance, and small figures for Master Peter's puppets. The three singers would be with the orchestra in the pit, rather than onstage. After a concert performance cum dress rehearsal in Seville in March 1923, that is how it was performed with the Princess's puppets in the music room of her Paris estate in June that year, with Vladimir Golschmann conducting. Hector Dufranne sang Quixote, Wanda Landowska played the harpsichord (Falla composed his Harpsichord Concerto for her in appreciation), Ricardo Viñes and Emilio Pujol were among the artists and musicians serving as stage hands. Also at the premiere was Francis Poulenc, who met Landowska for the first time; she asked him to write a harspichord concerto for her, and his Concert champêtre was the result.
Seville concert premiere (World premiere)
Paris staged premiere (World staged premiere)
Sets and puppets by Hermenegildo Lanz, Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, José Viñes Roda and Hernando Viñes. Staging under the direction of Manuel de Falla.
The premiere was attended by the poets, musicians and painters who comprised the exclusive court of the Princess de Polignac. Five days later, Corpus Barga published a report in El Sol with verbal portraits of some of those present: Paul Valery , " the poet of the day, making gestures like a shipwrecked man drowning in the waves of feminine shoulders'; Stravinsky, "a mouse among the cats " and Pablo Picasso "in evening dress, and mobbed by everybody , [who] seems as though he is resting in a corner with his hat pulled down over one eyebrow ", and the artist José Maria Sert.
Falla went on to tour the piece quite successfully throughout Spain with the Orquesta Bética, a chamber orchestra he had founded in 1922. Master Peter's Puppet Show
was a great success for Falla, with performances and new productions all over Europe within a few years of the premiere. In 1926 the Opéra Comique
in Paris celebrated Falla's 50th birthday with a program consisting of La Vida Breve
, El Amor Brujo
, and Master Peter's Puppet Show
. That performance used new designs by Falla's close friend, the artist Ignacio Zuloaga
, and new marionettes carved by Zuloaga's brother-in-law, Maxime Dethomas. For this production singers and extras replaced the large puppets, and Falla and Zuloaga took part personally, with Zuloaga playing Sancho Panza and de Falla playing the innkeeper. Later performances have frequently used singers and actors to replace the large puppets. José Carreras
made his operatic debut at age 11 as the boy narrator, Trujamán, in a 1958 production conducted by José Iturbi
at the Gran Teatre del Liceu
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|Lanceros y alabarderos
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Ensemble: flute (doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, cor anglais), clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, percussion (bell, tenor drum, rattles, tambourine, tam-tam, xylophone), timpani, harpsichord, harp-lute (or harp), strings.
Duration: 27 minutes, approx.
Score published by J. London & W. Chester
Dedication: “Très respectueusement dédié a Madame la Princesse Edmond de Polignac”
Setting: the courtyard of an inn at an undetermined place in La Mancha, Spain (possibly Ossa de Montiel).
- El Pregón (The announcement): Don Quixote and Sancho Panza witness a puppet show presented by Master Peter the puppeteer. He appears ringing a bell, with a monkey on his shoulder. He calls for attention and announces the performance of "The Tale of Melisendra", a story about the adoptive daughter of Charlemagne who has been abducted by the Moors and taken to Saragossa. The show, performed by smaller puppets, enacts the following.
"Vengan, vengan, a ver vuesas mercedes..." (Come, come and see, mylords).
- La Sinfonía de maese Pedro (Master Peter's symphony). The audience comes in, Don Quixote being bowed to a place in the front row, his long legs stretched in front of him or crossed during the following performance.
- Historia de la libertad de Melisendra (Tale of the rescue of Melisendra, introduction): The narration is sung by Master Peter's apprentice (the Boy or Trujamán): he begins introducing the subject. "Esta verdadera historia..." (This true story...).
- Scene I. La corte de Carlomagno (Charlemagne's court): The palace of Charlemagne. Melisendra, the emperor’s adoptive daughter, is held captive in Saragossa by the Moorish king Marsilio. Her husband Don Gayferos, however, remains idle, preoccupied with his games of chess. The scene is now revealed of the court of Charlemagne, where Don Gayferos is playing chess with Don Roland. The boy draws attention to Charlemagne himself, who is angry and urges Don Gayferos to action. The latter refuses the help of Roland and will set out himself to rescue Melisendra. The scene is acted after the narrative explanation, the two knights rising from their game as the Emperor enters to appropriately stately music and confronts Don Gayferos, striking him with his sceptre, before turning away. Left alone, the two knights quarrel and Don Gayferos storms out in anger.
- Scene II. Melisendra. "Ahora verán la torre del Alcázar de Zaragoza..." (Now, you are seeing the tower of the castle of Zaragoza"). A tower at the castle of Saragossa: there is the captive Melisendra thinking of her husband and Paris. A Moorish soldier approaches stealthily and steals a kiss from her. She calls for help, tearing her hair, and the Moor is seized by the guards. The boy continues the story, telling how the Moor is taken through the streets to the town square, where he will be given two hundred blows, condemned almost as soon as the crime had been committed.
The boy adds that the Moors have no due criminal process. Don Quixote takes exception to this and stands up to make his objection: Master Peter tells the boy to keep to the story, without adding his own embellishments. "Niño, niño, seguid vuestra historia en línea recta..." ("Boy, boy: follow your tale in straight way"). The puppeteer returns to his booth and Don Quixote sits down.
- Scene III. El suplicio del moro (The Moorish's punishment): The Moorish soldier is punished: the blows of the executioners in time with the music. The Moor falls and is dragged away by the guards.
- Scene IV. Los Pirineos (The Pyrenees): Don Gayferos rides through the mountain passes of the Pyrenees. He is wrapped in a long cloak and carries a hunting-horn, which he blows now and again. The curtain closes again and the boy describes how Melisendra, at the window of her tower, talks to a stranger in the street below, asking him to ask in Paris for Don Gayferos: the knight reveals his identity and sets her on his horse, riding now to Paris once more.
- Scene V. La fuga (The escape): Melisendra is rescued by Gayferos. They ride off toward Paris. The boy wishes them well, with happiness in lives as long as Nestor's, a comment that induces Master Peter to tell him to keep to the point. "Llaneza, muchacho, no te encumbres, que toda afectación es mala" (Simplicity, boy, don't climb too much, that any affectation is bad). The curtain now opens for the last time, showing King Marsilio summoning his guards, the boy pointing with his wand to the figures, as he tells the story. The Moors realize the escape and raise the alarm.
- Scene VI. La persecución (The pursuit): All the city is in turmoil, with bells ringing from the minarets. Don Quixote jumps up to object, since the Moors do not have church bells, but drums and shawms. ("Eso no, que es un gran disparate": "That is not, it is a great nonsense"). Master Peter pokes his head out of the booth to tell Don Quixote not to be such a stickler for accuracy, since plays are always full of inaccuracies of this kind. Don Quixote agrees and sits down again.
The Moors soldiers are pursuing them. Don Quixote is enraged to see Moors in pursuit of the Christian couple. The boy points out the figures now pursuing Don Gayferos and Melisendra, with trumpets and drums, about to catch the fugitives. At this moment, Don Quixote can't distance himself from the violence onstage: convinced the puppets are real, he leaps up, draws his sword and attacks the puppets, destroying the puppet theater. "Alto, malnacida canalla, non les sigáis" ("Stop, damned fool, don't pursue them").
- Finale: He declares himself a knight errant in thrall to the fair Dulcinea. ("Y vosotros: caballero Don Gaiferos, hermosa y bella señora Melisendra..." ("And you: knight Don Gaiferos, beautiful lady Melisendra"). He sings his love for Dulcinea: "Oh, Dulcinea, señora de mi vida" ("Oh, Dulcinea, lady of my life")and his own exploit and those of the knights of old, while Master Peter can only stare in despair at the havoc wrought on his puppets.
The musical idiom abandons the Andalusian taste of Falla's earlier work in favor of medieval and Renaissance sources; for his narrator, Falla adapted the sung public proclamations, or "pregones", of the old Spanish villages. Falla borrowed themes from the Baroque guitarist Gaspar Sanz, the 16th-century organist and theorist Francisco Salinas, and Spanish folk traditions (but Castilian folk music, not Andalusian), in addition to his own evocative inventions. His scoring, for a small orchestra featuring the then-unfamiliar sound of the harpsichord, was lean, pungent, neo-classical in a highly personal and original way, and pointedly virtuosic. The output is a completely original music, apparently simple, but of a great richness. The match of music and text is one of the greatest achievements of the work: as never before Spanish language finds here its genuine musical expression.
From Celebrating Don Quixote by Joseph Horowitz:
- "The work is surprisingly theatrical. It bristles with wit and limitless panache. It percolates with such subtle details as Don Quixote's long and ungainly legs - the only part of him which remains visible once Master Peter's production begins;'during the show, Falla specifies, 'they will remain in view, sometimes at rest, sometimes crossed over one another.' Beyond praise is Falla's juxtaposition of his two puppet casts and the pacing that propels their climactic convergence when Don Quixote rises to intervene for Melisandra (at which point the other puppet spectators crane their necks to better observe the action). This peak, cunningly scaled, recedes to an equally precise denouement: Don Quixote's closing salutation to knights errant (culled from a different chapter of the novel), with which he finally and fully pre-empts center stage."
1950. Ataúlfo Argenta, cond.; E. D. Bovi (baritone), E. de la Vara (tenor), Lola Rodríguez de Aragón (sop.). Orq. Nacional de España. Columbia RG 16109-12 (1 disc 78 rpm).
1953. F. Charles Adler, cond.; Otto Wiener (baritone), Waldemar Kmentt (tenor), Ilona Steingruber (sop.). Wiener Staatsopernorchester. SPA-Records 43 (1 LP).
1953. Eduard Toldrà, cond.; Manuel Ausensi (baritone), Gaetano Renon (tenor), Lola Rodríguez de Aragón (sop.). Orc. National de la Radiodiffusion Française (Théatre Champs Elysées). Angel 35089 (2 LP); Columbia FXC 217 (1 LP); Fonit 303 (1 LP); EMI 569 235-2 (4 CD, 1996).
1954. Ernesto Halffter, cond.; Chano González (bass), Francisco Navarro (tenor), Blanca Seoane (sop.). Orc. Théatre Champs Elysées. Ducretet 255 C 070 (1 LP); MCA Classics MCAD 10481 (1 CD).
1958. Ataúlfo Argenta, cond. Raimundo Torres (bass), Carlos Munguía (tenor), Julita Bermejo (sop.). Orquesta Nacional de España. Decca TWS SXL 2260 (1 LP). RCA, London.
1961. Pedro de Freitas Branco, cond.; Renato Cesari (baritone), Pedro Lavirgen (tenor), Teresa Tourné (sop.). Orq. de Conciertos de Madrid. Erato; Grande Musique d'Espagne GME 221 (1 CD)
1966. Ernesto Halffter, cond.; Pedro Farrés (bass), José María Higuero (tenor), Isabel Penagos (sop.). Orq. Radiotelevisión Español. Live from Teatro de la Zarzuela performance. Almaviva (1996) (1 CD).
1973. Odón Alonso, cond.; Pedro Farrés (baritone), Julio Julián (tenor), Isabel Penagos (sop.). Orq. alla Scala of Milan. Zafiro (1 LP).
1977. Charles Dutoit, cond.; Manuel Bermúdez (bar.), Tomás Cabrera (ten.), Ana Higueras-Aragón (sop.). Instrumental Ensemble. Erato STU 70713.
1980. Simon Rattle, cond.; Peter Knapp (baritone), Alexander Oliver (tenor), Jennifer Smith (sop.). London Sinfonietta. Argo ZRG 921 (1 LP); Decca 433 908-2 (2 CD).
1990. Josep Pons, cond.; Iñaki Fresán (baritone); Joan Cabero (tenor), Joan Martín (boy treble). Orq. de Cambra del Teatre Lliure (Barcelona). Harmonia Mundi HMC 905213 (1 CD).
1990. Charles Dutoit, cond.; Justino Díaz (baritone), Joan Cabero (tenor), Xavier Cabero (boy treble). Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal. Decca 071 145-1 ½ CDV (Film 27’51).
1991. Robert Ziegler, cond.; Matthew Best (bar.), Adrian Thompson (ten.), Samuel Linay (treble).Matrix Ensemble. ASV CDDCA 758 (1 CD).
1994. Eduardo Mata, cond.; William Alverado (bar.), Miguel Cortez (ten.), Lourdes Ambriz (sop.). Solistas de México. Dorian DOR 90214 (1 CD).
1997. Diego Dini Ciacci, cond.; Ismael Pons-Tena (baritone), Jordi Galofré (tenor), Natacha Valladares (soprano). I Cameristi del Teatro alla Scala (Milan). Naxos 8.553499 (1 CD).
2007. Jean-François Heisser, cond.; Jérôme Correas (baritone), Eric Huchet (tenor), Chantal Perraud (sop.). Orch. Poitou-Charentes. Mirare.