Keep Your Politics Out of My House of Bernarda Alba
One day in an otherwise uneventful class, Arantxa, my Spanish teacher at the Frederico Garcia Lorca Language School in Madrid explained to us (very slowly so there would be no misunderstanding) that the namesake of the school, the great Spanish playwright, was assassinated in the early goings of the Spanish Civil War for the crime of being a homosexual.
Notoriously late, Arantxa looked perpetually like she had just come to class directly from having had sex; semi-dazed, her bed-headed short brown hair always flopping out to one side so that she was obsessively tucking it back into place every 8 seconds, her first order of business was always rummaging through her purse for a cigarette. Now, she also told us that no Chinese people in Spain were ever found buried in any cemetaries (What’s really in your soup? she asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow, tucking her hair back, having just had sex) and that the Spanish government had video footage of Americans bombing Iraqi children with the very WMDs they wanted to pin on Saddam.
But yes, it was true that Lorca was gay, and that he was dragged into the cold moonlit streets and shot by right wing Nationalist Falangist bastards in Granada. What Arantxa failed to mention was that Lorca ignored everyone’s advice not to go to Granada, a famous Nationalist stronghold, especially when his brother in law, the mayor, was a wanted liberal and that by returning to Granada, he was effectively signing his own death warrant. (And have you ever heard of cremation, Arantxa? I mean, come on.)
But Lorca the martyr still stirs up controversy, even from beyond the grave. Just this month, a play by Pepe Rubianes called “Lorca eran todos (They were all Lorca)” which was scheduled to be performed in Madrid has been cancelled after the playwright received death threats from conservative political groups. The subject of the play was the assassination of the famous Lorca. Apparently, censorship is alive and well in Madrid. The miffed playwright compared the city to Afghanistan under the Taliban! Activists on both sides of the fence are up in arms. Taliban members are now signing up for Spanish courses.
This is particularly interesting because of late, I’ve been overplaying a new opera by the Argentinean composer du jour Osvaldo Golijov, “Ainadamar (Fountain of Tears)” which tackles the same subject matter, and even dares to cast the role of Lorca as (gasp!) a woman (a mezzo, to be precise). The fact that Chinese-American playwright and lifetime leader of Asian-American lifetime achievement awards David Henry Hwang wrote the libretto is a just a strange citrus twist in an already explosive cocktail. But in America, “Ainadamar” has flourished in productions and its most recent recording on the Deutsche Grammaphon label with supersoprano Dawn Upshaw singing the lead role. I don’t know how it’s been received in Spain, but if anyone else does, please let me know. By the way, the opera rocks. Check it out on iTunes already!
Sixty years on, the wounds of the Spanish Civil War still bite deeply in Spain, and clearly, they’re not close to healing. Although current President Zapatero had the last statue of Franco removed from the streets of Madrid, the fact that the dictator’s megalomaniacal burial carnival, the controversial Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), slavishly built by Republican prisoners of war, still exists as a government-sponsored tourist attraction speaks to the chasm between the left and right in Spain. But despite the controversy, the censorship, the buried resentment, and the biggest, scariest cross I’ve ever seen, one thing I know for sure:
The soup is fine, for chrissakes! Go ahead, order the soup.