Ópera y Teatro musical

Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant

Xavier de Paz
jueves, 29 de julio de 2004
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Manuel Fernández Caballero, one of the most important composers of the so-called reformed or romantic zarzuela, and as such, a colleague to Francisco A. Barbieri, Emilio Arrieta, Cristóbal Oudrid, Rafael Hernando and José Inzenga, composed the music to Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant, which was premièred at the Príncipe Alfonso Theatre in Madrid on 25 August 1877. The work pertains to the Spanish opera buffa genre, created by Francisco Arderius in 1866. From the date of its première it became one of the greatest classics in the Spanish zarzuela repertory, with thousands of performances, becoming essential viewing for families at Christmas time.

The composer

Manuel Fernández Caballero, Murcia, 14-III-1835; Madrid, 26-II-1906, was the youngest of 18 children. He began learning music with his brother-in-law Julián Gil, a violinist, maestro di cappella of the Madres Agustinas and conductor of the theatre orchestra and municipal band of Murcia. He furthered his studies in his native city with José Calvo, teaching himself to play the piccolo, clarinet and other woodwind instruments. At age seven he already played in an orchestra and in the band. In 1845 he travelled to Madrid with his mother and continued studying with another brother-in-law, Rafael Palazón. One year later he returned to Murcia and began composing religious works, pasodobles, and marches, making arrangements of opera for band and orchestra. At age 15 he moved to Madrid and enrolled at the Conservatorium, where he studied accompaniment with Antonio Aguado, piano with Pedro Pérez Albéniz and violin with José Vega. He studied harmony with Indalecio Soriano Fuertes and after the latter’s death, studied counterpoint, fugue and composition with Hilarión Eslava. In 1853 he was first violinist at the Teatro Real. That same year, he was successful in gaining entry to the position as maestro di cappella in Santiago de Cuba, but was not awarded the post because he was only 18 years of age.

It was then he began to work as an orchestral conductor at the Variedades theatre, for which he composed overtures, fantasias on operatic motives and numerous dance pieces. At the same time he conducted the orchestras at the Lope de Vega, Circo and Español theatres. In 1854 he premièred his first zarzuela, Tres madres para una hija at the Lope de Vega theatre. After Hilarión Eslava was named professor of composition at the Real Conservatorio de Música y Declamación, he enrolled in his classes and obtained first prize in composition in 1856.

He continued to première zarzuelas with greater or lesser success, of special note being those he composed in collaboration with Cristóbal Oudrid: El caballo blanco (1861) and Juegos de azar (1862). In 1864, after having composed close to 30 zarzuelas and disillusioned after a series of professional difficulties, Fernández Caballero moved to Cuba. He lived on the Caribbean island for seven years, directing a zarzuela company and teaching singing, piano, harmony and composition. In 1871 he returned to Madrid and commenced what is considered to be his second creative period, during which he composed some of the most important works of his career. Among the most successful of them were La Marsellesa (1876) and Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant (1877).

Fernández Caballero’s output suffered over the ensuing years, perhaps as a result of his prolificness and his collaboration with other composers on such works as El salto del pasiego (1878), La niña bonita (1881) and Las mil y una noches (1882). During this period he made numerous trips, conducting some of his works. Among his most notable destinations were Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In 1887 with the première of Château Margaux he became very popular, due, to a certain extent, to the famous “Vals de la borrachera”.

The last period in Fernández Caballero’s output was perhaps the most outstanding, despite his deteriorating vision. He suffered cataracts and gradually lost his sight, leading him to have to dictate his works to his son Mario in his last years. The première of El dúo de La Africana (1893) was a complete success, followed by other works that have remained in the mainstream repertory: El cabo primero (1895), La viejecita (1897) and especially Gigantes y cabezudos (1898).

In 1902 he read his admission speech to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, which discussed Spanish popular song considered an indispensable element in the formation of Spanish musical nationality. This demonstrates that his interest in Spanish popular music was not limited to the anecdotal or as a mere colouristic element. In 1903 Alfonso XIII awarded him the Great Cross of Alphonse XII and on 24 December 1904 homage was paid to him at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in celebration of 50 years since the première of his first zarzuela.

The librettist

Miguel Ramos Carrión, Zamora, 17-V-1848; Madrid, 8-VIII-1915. Writer and playwright. He moved to Madrid with this family and soon began to pursue his literary interests, contributing to several periodicals of the period. He founded the satirical seminary Las Disciplinas. The author of works in solitary and in collaboration, especially with Vital Aza, and of over 100 stage works, among the most successful La bruja, 1887, El chaleco blanco, 1890, El rey qye rabió, 1891, and Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, 1897. His libretti, with music by Ruperto Chapí, Federico Chueca and Fernández Caballero, among others, almost always enjoyed the recognition of both audiences and critics.

Los sobrinos del Capitán Grant, zarzuela in four acts and 18 scenes, is based on the novel by Jules Verne Les Enfants du capitaine Grant to create a “very original story that seems like fiction, but is actually true” as the character Don Marcial Mochila states in Act one. Carrión dedicated the work to Ángela Rodríguez de Arderius, wife of Francisco Anderius. Curiously, Jacques Offenbach, who inspired the buffo genre imported by Arderius, premièred Le voyage dans la Lune, also based on the novel of the same name by Jules Verne in 1875 in Paris two years earlier.

The work

Los sobrinos del capitán Grant is a perfect example of the so-called buffo theatre, imported into Spain by Francisco Arderius, who played the role of Doctor Mirabel during the première. Actor, singer and impresario, Arderius was responsible for introducing the buffo genre into Madrid, creating the famous company of Bufos Madrileños in 1866 mirroring the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens created by Jacques Offenbach. El joven Telémaco with music by José Rogel and libretto by Eusebio Blasco, was the first work in this genre to be performed in Madrid by the company, which would première more than 80 works over a decade in collaboration with composers of the stature of Barbieri, Arrieta, Vidal y Llimona, Oudrid and Fernández Caballero. Los sobrinos del capitán Grant represents the end of a cycle of works for the buffo theatre1.

As Professor Casares has shown, the introduction of the buffo genre led to the first crisis in the model of zarzuela established by Barbieri in 1851 with Jugar con fuego, marking a turning point that precedes and foreshadows the birth of the género chico in 1880. The buffo represents a conception of the theatre as pure entertainment, a simple and banal art form, mere spectacle, so that historical themes, fundamental to the zarzuela grande, are not used unless it is in a mocking or satirical form. The majority of the libretti are ultimately an accumulation of nonsensical and unrelated situations, the drama evolving in an incoherent manner, completely foreign to the ideas and concerns typical of the romanticism of the second half of the nineteenth century2. Los sobrinos del capitán Grant is divided into 28 musical numbers distributed over four acts. The first two are considerably longer than the latter two.

Musically Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, like the majority of works created for the buffos, is characterised by the following elements:

-The presence of popular rhythms and elements of Europe of the period: mazurkas, waltzes, marches, barcaroles and polkas. This comes in contrast to the original intention of the most outstanding Spanish composers using resources peculiars to Spanish folklore, to convert the zarzuela into a theatrical genre in its own right or into national opera. All this was a mere parenthesis, the result of the importation of European trends, after which the elements from Spanish folklore reappeared in the género chico as the basis of the work.

-Priority given to the actor instead of the singer. As a consequence the parts are vocally less demanding and there is practically no vocal virtuosity. Don Marcial Mochila, the protagonist of Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, is only required to sing in Act one, speaking in the other three. Escolástico only sings with Soledad and Mochila in the short Terzetto in Act one (No. 5), while Ketty, another lead role, only sings the soprano duet (No. 10) with Soledad. Doctor Mirabel and Sir Clyron do not sing at all.

-The appearance of numerous characters on stage. In Los sobrinos del capitán Grant alone there are 27, though only eight of these sing, the rest are actors.

-The abundance of choruses, filling the stage. In Los sobrinos del capitán Grant there are 16 sung numbers, the chorus is present in all except three: Mochila’s Raconto (No. 3), Terzetto (no. 5) and the Soprano Duet (No. 10).

-The widespread use of dance forms an integral part of the work. This is reflected in Number 2, the Neighbourhood Women’s Chorus with a mazurka rhythm; Number 3, Mochila’s Entrance with a military march air; Number 4, Mochila’s Raconto, in waltz tempo; Number 6, the Barcarole sung by the Sailors; Number 8, the habanera in the Lady Smokers’ Chorus and the Chilean zamacueca, or handkerchief dance. Caballero uses dances from South-American folklore (the habanera and the zamacueca) to create the right atmosphere and as an exotic resource, a result of his first-hand knowledge of this music following his seven-year stay in Cuba. As a curiosity, it is worth pointing out the use of a strange instrument for the period in the zamacuenca (number 8): the guiro, a scraper originating in Latin America, which was an instrumental innovation in its time. Chueca later used it in El Bateo (1901), but it did not reappear in instrumental music until Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1911-13).

-The complexity of the plot and the large number of changes of scenery. Fernández Caballero employed multiple orchestral numbers in Los sobrinos del capitán Grant to favour these scene changes. Instrumental music is also used to illustrate the storyline and conjure up the right atmosphere for the endless array of difficult and complicated situations the main characters find themselves in. The action is laden with surprises and potent fantasy, including an earthquake, the fight and death of the condor, storms, the derailment of the twelve-o’clock train, the waltz at the bottom of the sea, a volcano scene, etc.


Act I

Scene 1: “The Scroll”. A group of street musicians perform daily in the courtyard of a residential house in Madrid. The surprised neighbourhood women wonder who is paying them and for whom they play, when a gunshot causes them to rapidly disperse. Doctor Mirabel, an eminent, absent-minded scientist, informs the caretaker of his imminent trip to the Philippines to study the flora and fauna. Escolástico, a young seminarist who has won the lottery arrives. He is secretly in love with Soeldad, one of the neighbourhood women. Escolástico asks the caretaker to give his beloved a letter and confesses that he is responsible for sending the street musicians every day to awaken Soledad. As it turns out, Sublieutenant Mochila, who is desperate for money after having retired some years ago, fired the gunshot. But his luck is about to change, as he has found a strange document inside a hake. He calls all the neighbours over and puts a surprising proposition to them. The document tells of the sinking of the brig Veloz, just off Patagonia. It is a call for help from a shipwreck, Captain Grant, who possesses an immense treasure he will share with whoever rescues him. All the townsfolk think he is crazy, except for Soledad, who goes along with him out of compassion and pretends she is the niece of the shipwrecked Captain. Sir Clyron and his niece Miss Ketty, who have read the announcement Mochila placed in the newspaper, arrive. Sir Clyron, whose life Captain Grant once saved, has a debt to repay with him and offers his boat “The Scotland” and his fabulous chest of diamonds to finance the trip to rescue the Captain and the treasure. Soledad joins the expedition as the Captain’s “niece” and in order to be close to his beloved, Escolástico pretends to be her “cousin” and joins the group. All leave for Málaga to embark.

Scene 2: “On board The Scotland”. Sir Clyron’s ship sails the Atlantic and the cabin boys sing the famous Barcarole when Doctor Mirabel appears on deck. He realises he has confused the British Isles; instead of boarding The Ireland, bound for the Philippines, he wounded up on The Scotland, which has set sail for Chile.

Act II

Scene 3: “Long live Chile!” A festive day in a plaza in Talcahuano, Chile. The townsfolk celebrate their independence with songs. Doctor Mirabel joins the expedition after being unable to buy a ticket to the Philippines. All await Mochila’s arrival. Mochila has gone off in search of information about the sinking of the Veloz, but returns desolate: no Spanish ship has sunk off the coast of Chile in the last 10 years. After studying the document again, Doctor Mirabel concludes that Captain Grant is being held prisoner by the Indians in inland Chile.

Scene 4: “We are climbing”. A gorge in the Andes. A native of Patagonia offers to act as a guide and they begin the climb on the back of a donkey. Half way up, Miss Ketty discovers that Soledad is more than a cousin to Escolástico. In the ensuing duet the two sopranos compete for Escolástico’s attention, compounding the rivalry that arose during their first meeting in the neighbourhood.

Scene 5. “At an altitude of 20, 000 feet”. The expedition reaches the peak of the Andes. While they rest after such a long journey, the sound of underground trembling foretells of a violent earthquake. All flee, there is a loud clap of thunder, and the set changes in front of the audience. The mountains are lowered, altering their original form, and a large rock breaks off, causing Mochila and Patagon the guide to fall.

Scene 6. “The condor”. The expedition falls down the mountains onto the Argentinean plains. All are lying on the floor when Mochila and Patagon fall on top of them. When the Sublieutenant pulls himself together, they discover Doctor Mirabel is missing, as he has been snatched away by a condor. Patagon aims and hits the bird, which falls through the air and lands behind some trees without letting go of his prey. The condor acts as a parachute, saving the Doctor’s life.

Scene 7. “Four shots”. Outside a military fort. A group of soldiers clumsily and unenthusiastically follow orders from their Commander. A guardian takes the protagonists for Paraguayan spies and the Commander orders them to be taken prisoner. The General arrives and a court martial sentences them to death, but the good-hearted Commander takes pity on them and simulates a false execution using gunpowder.

Scene 8. “Bird life”. The rains have flooded the country and the expedition has taken refuge from the water in a treetop. Doctor Mirabel rereads the document and suggests that Captain Grant is not on the “austral” continent, but in Australia. The rain gets heavier and a bolt of lightning strikes the tree and one of its branches begins to burn. The group is about to jump into the water, but crocodiles surround the tree, trying to climb up the trunk. Terrorised, all cling to the trunk. The tree begins to sway and bends towards the water.


Scene 9. “A windmill in Australia”. A group of bandits led by Jaime are planning to rob the gold train. In order to so, they have removed some of the screws from an iron bridge the train must cross. Jaime, the country’s most famous outlaw, is aware of the protagonists’ arrival. Posing as an honest farmer, he explains he was shipmaster of the Veloz, which is true, and claims to know exactly where the natives of Central Australia are holding Captain Grant prisoner. He offers to act as a guide and all depart except Mochila, who catches a train to Melbourne in search of provisions. They agree to meet at the station.

Scene 10. “The twelve o’clock train”. A mountainous landscape with the bridge in the distance. Night has fallen and a station hand calls to the passengers. The train appears on the bridge, but when it reaches the middle, the structure collapses and part of the train falls into the river. From one of the windows of the only carriage that hasn’t fallen, Mochila waves a handkerchief.

Scene 11. “The surprise”. Inside an inn in central Australia. Jaime has arrived before the rest and hides all of the inn’s horses. His intention is to trick the members of the expedition so that all the money and Sir Clyron’s boat will be his. The expedition arrives on foot, since all the horses have died by magic. In order to be able to continue the trip, Sir Clyron writes a letter to the captain of “The Scotland” to provide Jaime with enough funds to go on. Doctor Mirabel reads an article in the newspaper about a train robbery and discovers Jaime’s real identity, but Jaime is able to escape with the letter.

Scene 12. “Overboard!” In the coral fishermens’ cave. Mochila and the Doctor reach the cave and ask two fishermen about “The Scotland”. They tell them a group of bandits sunk the ship the night before. An individual matching Jaime’s description has just hired a diving mask from them, to investigate the wreck on the bottom of the sea. Mochila then decides to rent another mask to try and impede Jaime from obtaining Sir Clyron’s chest filled with diamonds.

Scene 13. “A drama on the bottom of the sea”. Rough seas. Two boats can be seen in the distance. In one of them, Mochila and the Fisherman, dressed in diving suits, tie down the boat. The other boat is unmanned. The sea begins to rise, serenading them as it becomes deeper. Jaime climbs down the ladder and reaches the bottom of the sea. “The Scotland” lies on a sand bank. The body of Captain John clings to Sir Clyron’s chest. A giant squid lies still at a distance. Jaime reaches the boat and takes the chest, but Mochila and the Fisherman arrive and a fight takes place between them. Suddenly the squid extends one of his tentacles and grabs hold of Jaime, who squirms violently and lets go of the chest, which falls on the sand. Mochila picks its up, and climbs up the stair of the boat with the Fisherman. The squid drags Jaime away and disappears from the audience’s view.

Act IV

Scene 14. “Prisoners”. New Zealand. The Maoris have captured the members of the expedition, except Doctor Mirabel, intending to sacrifice them in honour of their dead chief. They manage to escape thanks to Escolástico, who finds a trapdoor in the ground of the cabin in which they are being held prisoner.

Scene 15. “The sacred mountain”. The protagonists take refuge in Mount Maunganamu, which is sacred to the natives, but the Maoris soon besieged them. Sir Clyron decides to cast the enormous rock that rests on the hilltop upon them. Assisted by wooden stakes they try to dislodge the rock. But once it has been released, smoke begins to biller out and flames and incandescent stones pour out. They have opened the volcano’s crater and all flee in terror. The lava inundates the stage.

Scene 16. “The Maori chief”. A cave on the sea shore. Doctor Mirabel, dressed as a Maori chief with many feathers, enters the cave and goes to sleep. The expedition arrives at the cave in canoe and discovers the Doctor. He tells them he has been taken for a reincarnation of the dead Maori chief and a hobby has saved his life: he had chosen the wrong grammar, studying “zelandés” instead of Chinese. He meditates in the cave before the ceremony proclaiming him chief of the tribe. All decide to escape to a nearby island in the canoe.

Scene 17. “Captain Grant”. Outside a cabin. Upon reaching the island, the group discovers it is inhabited by Captain Grant. He is overjoyed to see them, but decides to remain on the island, even as a Spanish ship can be seen on the horizon. Mochila discovers the reason why: the Maoris had robbed him of the treasure a few days ago. Doctor Mirabel decides that the treasure must be recovered, taking advantage of his condition as a Maori chief.

Scene 18. “The treasure”. Inside a grand Maori temple, Doctor Mirabel, dressed as a Maori Chief in lavish ceremonial dress, is being crowned. Meanwhile, the natives celebrate the occasion with dance and raise Captain Grant’s treasure as an offering. The group takes advantage of the confusion to come out from hiding and rescue the treasure. All are able to escape and return to Spain, rich and content.

Sources and editorial criteria

The critical edition of the libretto has been prepared by comparing editions published over various years, reaching a seventh edition, which indicates the work’s success. The libretti consulted are conserved in the Library of the Music Archive of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores in Madrid and in the Rare Books Section of the Biblioteca Nacional. Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, novela cómico lírica dramática basada sobre una de Julio Verne [in four acts] con letra de Miguel Ramos Carrión y música de Manuel Fernández Caballero. Barcelona, Editorial Cisne, Teatro selecto, numero especial lírico, n.d. (LIB/27, Archive SGAE); Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, novela cómico-lírico-dramática basada sobre uno de Julio Verne y escrita en prosa por Miguel Ramos Carrión, música del maestro Fernández Caballero, Madrid, Administración Lírico-Dramática, 1880, 2nd ed. (T/9.476, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid); Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, novela cómico lírica dramática [in four acts] con letra de Miguel Ramos Carrión y música del maestro Fernández Caballero, Madrid, Imprenta de Cosme Rodríguez, 1882, 4th ed. (LIB/27, Archive SGAE); Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, novela cómico lírica dramática [in four acts] con letra de Miguel Ramos Carrión y música del maestro Fernández Caballero, Madrid, R. Velasco Editor, 1885, 6th ed. (CR-277/6533, Archive SGAE); Los sobrinos del capitán Grant. Argumento de la zarzuela de espectáculo en cuatro actos escrita en prosa por don Miguel Ramos Carrión. Música del maestro don Manuel Fernández Caballero. [Valladolid, Celestino González?], 1906 (T/50.219, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid); Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, novella cómico lírica dramática en cuatro actos con letra de Miguel Ramos Carrión y música de Manuel Fernández Caballero, Madrid, R. Velasco Editor, 1911, 7th ed. (LIB/27, Archive SGAE).

No significant differences have been detected between the various editions, such as extra scenes or sung numbers, or to the contrary, the omission of others that were not successful during the work’s many performances. The same materials have thus been consulted as those used for the music, and differences between the text of the libretto and that of the score have been shown in square brackets, altering the libretto to that found in the score so that both coincide, with the insertion of notes in the version of the libretto. Thus, for example, in No. .8, the Lady Smokers’ Chorus, the score reads: “Hoy celebra Chile con magnificencia/ el aniversario de su independencia”, while the libretto gives “Hoy celebra Chile la fiesta esplendente/ que al santo patrono/ dedica anualmente”.

The critical edition of the music has been based principally on different orchestral parts conserved in the archives of the SGAE in Madrid and Barcelona, since only two numbers of the composer’s manuscript are conserved in the Museo Nacional de Teatro de Almagro (No. 22 and No. 23 of this edition). The music to No. 22, the Waltz at the Bottom of the Sea, is only conserved up until bar 362 (included). The majority of the orchestral parts date from the period of the work’s première and are thus conserved in a very poor state, full of corrections, torn pages and stains that impede a clear reading.

Manuscript parts from the Music Archive of SGAE in a fairly acceptable state of conservation have thus been used. These materials are listed as follows:

1. Materials proceeding from the Marcela Llunas Archive-Tailor’s Shop undated and in a lamentable state of conservation. The flute part pertains to the Music Archive, Olmos Borge copying centre and company from Alicante (3975).

2. Materials from the large publishing house and general music, piano, organ and other salon instruments store run by Antonio Romero y Andía. Capallanes 10 (previously Preciados, 1) Madrid. These materials are also undated and in a poor state of conservation. All the parts are stamped “Property of Florencio Fiscowich, publisher Madrid”. Although the Violins II parts have the same blue cover as the rest of the materials, they also contain the following inscription: “Archive and music copying house for large and small orchestra, property of Florencio Fiscowich (publisher). Pozas, No. 2, 2º Madrid”. The oboe and cornet parts have a cream cover and pertain to the Sociedad de Autores Españoles, Núñez de Balboa no. 12 Madrid. Music Archive (3975).

3. Materials from the Sociedad General de Autores, Prado no. 24, Madrid. Music Archive. These are also undated and are in a slightly better state of conservation than the previous sets (3975).

4. Undated materials from the Sociedad General de Autores de España (“Líricos” section), Madrid. These were the most consulted materials as they are more modern and legible (3975).

5. Finally, an initial departure point was the only published edition of the vocal-piano reduction by the Sociedad anónima Casa Dotesio: Madrid-Bilbao (F-8013-6/146).

6. Additionally, the Violin Conductor’s manuscript short score pertaining to the Marcela Llunas Archive-Tailor’s Shop, and the manuscript of the materials from the Archive of the SGAE mentioned above, were also consulted (3975).

Using these materials as the basis of this edition, dynamics have been included, the articulation of the score revised, expressive slurs added and numerous indications appearing in the various sets of materials completed. Some errors appearing in the four materials consulted have also been rectified and these are listed below in the order they appear in the critical edition. (Some of these errors are present in some materials, but not in others, thus only those that appear in all four materials cited above are listed).

 English translation by Yolanda Acker


See Emilio Casares: “Bufo”, Diccionario de la Música Española e Hispanoamericana, Vol. II, Madrid, SGAE, 1992, vol. 2, pp. 773-80.

See Emilio Casares: “El teatro de los bufos”, programme notes, Madrid, Teatro Madrid, September 1992; –––: “El teatro de los bufos o una crisis en el teatro lírico del XIX español”, Anuario Musical, 48, 1993, pp. 217-28; –––: “Historia del teatro de los bufos, 1866-1881, Crónica y dramaturgia”, Cuadernos de música iberoamericana, 2-3, Madrid, SGAE-ICCMU, 1996-7, pp. 73-118.

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