As part of our series about zarzuela, we thought we would write some features about the different performances. The first one we have chosen is El Barberillo de Lavapies, perhaps one of the most loved.
This particular zarzuela written by the prolific Francisco Aserijo Barbieri, with libretto by Luis Mariano de Larra in the 1870s, which many would say was its golden age. It was performed for the first time in the Teatro de Zarzuela, Madrid in December 1874, where it received wide acclaim and still today it is very well known and much loved. It's a story of many twists, it has moments of humour, passion, satire and seriousness, whilst the musical score is cleverly written and very melodic.
The piece is set in 18th century Madrid and takes places in the the traditional neighbourhoods of Lavapiés and La Latina. In fact many of the streets and buildings mentioned are still here today. During the period the piece is set, Madrid was going through a very turbulent time, with many uprisings against the ruling class and much violence and disorder on the streets. This provides the main crux for the plot as the main characters are rebelling against the government's repression on the streets.
The act opens to the scene of religious festival. The streets are full of people celebrating, however given the political crisis, the Walloon Guards of the much loathed Prime Minister Grimaldi are on patrol. On stage is Lamparilla, a boisterous barber and rogue. He is in love with Paloma, a dressmaker to Madrid's wealthy. The Marquess of Bierza and Don Juan de Peralta enter and they are very critical of Grimaldi and his repressive ways. They want to devise a plan to overthrow him and let Floridablanca take charge. However when the Marquess bumps into her fiancé Don Luis, who is the nephew of Grimaldi she has to be quiet. The two decide to hide in an inn, but they are quickly ruffled by the troops, which leads to a duel.
In order to plan the overthrowing, they pair need help, so the Marquess asks Paloma what to do. They pair return to the celebrations in disguise however when Don Luis arrives, quick thinking Lamparilla leads her away. Things start to stir up when Don Luis learns of the plot involving his fiancé and the guards set out to arrest them.
On a square in the Lavapiés neighbourhood, Lamparilla appears and everyone is happy. He boasts about his acts, but actually he was set free only after the Marquess bribed the prison guards. The Marquess wants Lamparilla to join the conspiracy and tells Paloma she will pay for their wedding if she can convince him. Lamparilla would be needed to distract the guards by breaking lampposts whilst the others put the plan into action. The plan is to arrange a meeting between Grimaldi and Floridablanca. The Marquess forbids Paloma from seeing Don Luis in the days before the plan is carried out. Whilst the conspirators are at work, Don Luis finds out and arrives at their house with the guards. They have been tipped off. However the group managed to make a quick escape from the Marquess's house by making a hole in the wall.
The final scene takes place in Paloma's room in Calle Toledo, where she is singing about her goldfinch as she sews. She has been shut up in her house since the plot. Her next plan is to help Don Luis and the Marquess to escape the city, however this she keeps to herself. The Marquess in her specially made outfit and Don Luis arrive; they are ready to leave with the others for the country. But the guards intercept and arrest Paloma, the Marquess and Don Luis. Only Laparilla escapes. He triumphantly declares that Floridablanca is in now charge and that Grimaldi has been overthrown. This means that Don Luis will have to go into exile and the Marquess, being faithful to her fiancé leaves with him. Paloma gets released from prison and becomes reunited with Lamparilla. The performance ends with them declare their eternal love for each other.