On October 19th, 1701, the Spanish composer and organist Tomas de Torrejón y Velasco (1644-1728) premiered his only surviving opera, “La púrpura de la rosa” (The Blood of the Rose), at the Palace of the Viceroy in Lima, Peru to celebrate the 18th birthday of King Phillip V of Spain and his ascension to the Spanish throne. With a libretto by the Spanish Golden Age playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), the opera is regarded as the first in the history of Spain. The original music was lost and thus, Torrejón had to entirely rewrite the music. Initially, the libretto was used by Spanish composer Juan Hidalgo de Polanco (1614-1685) in 1660 to mark the marriage between King Louis XIV (The Sun King) and Maria Teresa of Spain, who’d been serving as Master of Music at the Court of Madrid. Based on an embellished retelling of the Ovidian love story of Venus and Adonis, Torrejón’s opera had a short lifespan. It’s known that it was performed a few times in the early 18th century before falling off the operatic radar until the late 20th century when it was rediscovered in 1999 by the Bloomington Early Music Festival. The opera is the first known opera to be performed in the Western hemisphere and thus is highly important for operatic history, despite its absence from canon, opera history.
The opera comprises four scenes, prefaced by a loa (a song of praise or celebration heralding from the Grecian loa which was dedicated to the God of Music and Dance Apollo, although it’s mostly connected to the Bacchanalia). In the 17th century Spanish theatrical tradition, the loa usually accompanied a zarzuela (a Spanish lyric-drama ) at the middle or the end of the work. However, Torrejón’s loa coincides with its usage as an operatic prologue which was used to show praise for the dedicated person(s) or patron. The opera’s loa is dedicated to King Phillip and mythologizes his eminence through a festive song of praise sung by various Muses in Apollo’s Temple on the mythical Mount Parnassus. The four scenes recount the tenuous love between Venus (the Goddess of Love and Fertility) and Adonis (her mortal lover who was killed by a wild boar before being turned into a rose by Jupiter, or Zeus), and the vengeful deeds committed by Mars (the God of War) because of his own desire for Venus’ hand. The opera contains 19 main characters (who all play either Gods, Goddesses, muses, mortals, and six vices), with several more in the chorus. The title of the opera alludes to Adonis’ spilled blood and his incarnation as a rose by Jupiter. At the end of the opera, Mars shows Venus’ the bloody body of Adonis to her laying among the roses. The opera ends with Jupiter (Zeus) reincarnating both Adonis and Venus.
- Did you know? The only full manuscript of Torrejón’s opera resides at the National Library of Peru in Lima.
- Did you know? Torrejón may have been a student of Hidalgo, as their music shares many musical similarities!
Take a Listen
- The Blood of the Rose (Performance by The Syntagma Musicum Usach, 1999)