Federico Moreno Torroba's 'Luisa Fernanda' Tenor Placido Domingo was born in Spain, to a family with deep roots in the uniquely Spanish form of musical theater, zarzuela. In a production from Washington, DC, he returns to those roots to star in Federico Moreno Torroba's Luisa Fernanda.
NPR logo

An Intro to 'Luisa Fernanda' with Placido Domingo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18789168/18747370" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Federico Moreno Torroba's 'Luisa Fernanda'

Federico Moreno Torroba's 'Luisa Fernanda'

From the Washington National Opera

An Intro to 'Luisa Fernanda' with Placido Domingo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18789168/18747370" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">


  • Placido Domingo ............ Vidal
  • Maria Jose Montiel ....... Luisa
  • Elena de la Merced ..... Carolina
  • Israel Lozano ................ Javier
  • Sabina Puertolas Azara ..... Rosita
  • Suzanna Guzman ,,,,,,,, Mariana
  • Peter Joshua Burroughs ... Anibal
  • Valeriano Lanchas .........Nogales
  • Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
  • Miguel Roa, conductor

Maria Jose Montiel stars with Placido Domingo in the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, at the Washington National Opera. Karin Cooper hide caption

toggle caption
Karin Cooper

It's not surprising that tenor Placido Domingo was born into a musical family, or that both his parents were highly accomplished singers. But what may be surprising is that neither parent was, strictly speaking, an opera singer.

Domingo was born in Spain, though his family moved to Mexico when he was boy, and both his mother and father were popular performers in a uniquely Spanish form of entertainment called zarzuela.

Many western musical traditions include a form of musical theater with lighter stories than opera. They also feature significant passages of spoken dialogue. In the English speaking world, it's often called operetta — think Gilbert and Sullivan or Victor Herbert. In France, the traditional term is opera comique. And in Spain, it's zarzuela, which has little or no dialogue that's set to music, instead leaning heavily on formal, musical numbers — songs, ensembles, choruses and dances.

Zarzuela dates back to the 17th century, when it took its name from a place where it was often performed — a hunting lodge owned by King Philip IV. The genre has had many heydays since then, not least the first half of the 20th century, when one of its leading composers was Federico Moreno Torroba.

On World of Opera, Placido Domingo returns to his family's roots to star in Moreno Torroba's influential zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, composed in 1932 and set against the revolutionary struggles in Madrid in the 1900s. Host Lisa Simeone brings us a production by the Washington National Opera, from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

The Story of 'Luisa Fernanda'

Dancers entertain at the wedding celebration, in Act Two of Moreno Torroba's Luisa Fernanda. Karin Cooper hide caption

toggle caption
Karin Cooper

Elena de la Merced plays the Duchess Carolina, who would be quite content if the revolutionaries around her could be content with the status quo. Karin Cooper hide caption

toggle caption
Karin Cooper

ACT ONE: The action is set in Madrid 1868, towards the end of the reign of Isabella the Second, when royalists and revolutionaries were beginning to do battle. Act One opens in the Plaza de San Javier, a popular meeting place. An innkeeper, Mariana, talks with her lodgers, who include Rosita, a seamstress, Don Luis Nogales, a revolutionary, and his friend Anibal. The old palace clerk, Don Florito Fernandez arrives, with his daughter Luisa Fernanda. She's in love with a young swain named Javier who's just been promoted to Colonel in the military, but he's been ignoring her lately.

After Luisa leaves to attend Mass, Javier arrives. He's missed her once again. Scolded by Mariana, Javier complains about what he calls the quiet life of Madrid. Then Anibal tells Javier about the revolutionary movement, and introduces him to Nogales. But the Duchess Carolina overhears this conversation, and doesn't approve. Being a noble, she's naturally in favor of maintaining the aristocracy.

When the men leave, Luisa returns. She's disappointed to have missed Javier, and Mariana comforts her. She tells Luisa to forget about Javier, and start paying attention to a rich landowner named Vidal Hernando, who has come to Madrid to look for a wife. As it happens, Vidal is nearby. Luisa flirts with him briefly, but tells him she's in love with someone else.

Then the complicated comedy of errors begins. The Duchess seduces Javier, turning him into a royalist. The wealthy Vidal, on the other hand, decides to become a revolutionary, as a way to win the heart of Luisa, who is confused by all these shifting loyalties.

The next scene takes place outside the Church of San Antonio, where Mariana and Rosita have been persuaded by Carolina to collect money for charity. A colorful crowd goes by, filled with musicians and street vendors, and a group of amorous young men. They're following some pretty young women who have come to ask Saint Anthony for help in finding lovers.

The Duchess and Javier join the young men in a flirtatious song. Mariana watches them, and reports back to Luisa, who acts like she doesn't care, and tells Mariana she's actually waiting for Vidal. Some of the men discuss a revolutionary attack that has just failed. The Duchess Carolina tries to get Vidal to join the royalists, but as soon as Luisa appears, Vidal declares that he will remain a revolutionary for her sake. Hearing that, Luisa tells Javier that she prefers Vidal.

Carolina decides that because Mariana and Rosita aren't having much luck raising money for charity, she'll auction herself off as a dance partner. Because Vidal is so rich, he easily outbids everyone else. Then he passes Carolina off to Javier, who is steaming with anger over not being able to bid high enough himself.

ACT TWO: In the street, men are preparing for battle. Bizco talks with a street vendor about the plight of the revolutionaries, while Nogales gives a passionate speech to his rag-tag band of men about the importance of fighting and dying for liberty.

Meanwhile, the women are praying that nobody they love is killed in the struggle. Anibal arrives, wounded. He reports on the progress of the battle and says Vidal has acted heroically, but has also been wounded. Vidal enters and says he fought only for Luisa, whose father announces that Javier is planning a counterattack. Luisa then speaks up, denouncing the royalists in front of the Duchess Carolina, and praising the bravery of the revolutionaries.

Javier's attack fails, and he is taken prisoner by the revolutionary Nogales. The crowd cries out for Javier's death, but Luisa steps forward to defend him. Suddenly Vidal and other revolutionaries rush in, pursued by royalists. The royal soldiers free Javier and announce the defeat of the rebels. Vidal admits defeat and is ready to be arrested as the chief instigator, but Nogales intervenes and claims that honor for himself, as the troops take him away. Javier and Carolina embrace and leave, and Luisa promises to marry the wounded Vidal.

The final scene takes place at Vidal's wealthy estate. After many setbacks, the revolution has finally succeeded. Carolina has been exiled to Portugal. Javier has simply disappeared, reported missing after the queen lost her throne. Mariana, Luisa, and Don Florito are at Vidal's estate preparing the wedding festivities.

Suddenly Anibal rushes in, announcing that he has found Javier in Portugal, and brought him back. Javier desperately wants to meet Luisa and begs Anibal to help him. Luisa agrees to meet Javier, and admits that she still loves him. But, she says, she must honor her word to marry Vidal. When Vidal discovers this, he realizes he can never make Luisa love him, and sets her free. Over her objections, he urges Luisa to leave with Javier. Then, turning to his harvesters, Vidal tells them to get on with their work. He is left alone to grieve, with only his memories to console him.

Related NPR Stories

Purchase Featured Music

Buy Featured Music

Romanzas de Zarzuelas
Plácido Domingo
EMI Classics

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?