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Rescue Attempt for a Major Dance Work

To assess the legacy of a conductor, the first place to look is repertoire. Leonard Bernstein’s too-brief decade as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic was remarkable in many ways, but the surest criterion of Bernstein’s success is the music he successfully championed. He made Mahler, Ives, and Nielsen matter as they had not mattered before.
Every orchestra, every conductor, should aspire to impact on repertoire – whether locally, nationally, or internationally. As a producer of concerts, and as Artistic Director of DC’s Post-Classical Ensemble (which I co-founded with the conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez seven years ago), I hunger for opportunities to celebrate important music that remains little-known.
The composer we most program in DC is the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940). Angel and I feel confident that his time will come. We believe that Revueltas’s score for Redes (1935) is as stirring as Prokofiev’s for Alexander Nevsky. We think that few composers this side of the Atlantic have created a symphonic palette as individual or vital.
We’ve also championed (and recorded) Aaron Copland’s The City (1939) as his highest achievement as a film composer – the most important Copland score that remains little-heard. We gave the American premiere of Kurt Weill’s Walt Whitman songs in the version with orchestra in the conviction that this heartfelt response to Pearl Harbor is one Weill’s finest American works (cf. my blog of Feb. 21).
Last night at BAM, Angel conducted the Orchestra of St Luke’s in the American stage premiere of Manuel de Falla’s El Corregidor y la Molinera (The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife) in a new production that Post-Classical Ensemble repeats in DC this Friday night. A 45-minute dance/pantomime with chamber orchestra, Corregidor has a tangled history. It premiered in Madrid in 1917. Diaghilev wanted it. But he also wanted many changes. He had Falla recast it with a full orchestra, less pantomime, and many new numbers, including a fresh finale. Massine choreographed and danced the Miller. Picasso did sets and costumes. The result was The Three-Cornered Hat – whose triumph doomed Corregidor to obscurity.
According to the listing in the New Grove Dictionary of Music, Three-Cornered Hat is a “revised and expanded” version of Corregidor. Not really. The story is the same, and two of the famous Three-Cornered Hat dances – the fandango and seguidilla – originate in Corregidor (in deliciously fragrant scorings for a 17-member pit band). But Corregidor is longer than Three-Cornered Hat, not shorter. And about half the music is different.
In a post-concert discussion at BAM, Angel called Corregidor “cartoon music.” And so it is. The score prickles with detailed gesture and incident aligned with precise musical description. There are also facetious allusions to Beethoven’s First and Fifth Symphonies, and (a reference not mentioned in any Falla book I know) to the Rhinemaidens in Gotterdammerung (water music, for the Corregidor’s hapless plunge into the local river en route to seduce the Miller’s Wife).
The changes Diaghilev wanted were both practical and shrewd. Corregidor was far too intimate for his Ballet Russes. Its ending is problematically abrupt. And Falla – a compulsive eccentric; he was known to brush his teeth for 30 minutes — got carried away with his cartoonsmanship (what is derided in film-music circles as “Mickey-Mousing”). As he was an inveterate reviser, intent on perfection, he would certainly have polished Corregidor had Three-Cornered Hat not intervened.
In short, El Corregidor y la Molinera is an orphaned work craving reconsideration. A literal staging, with every cartoon detail in place, would today risk seeming impossibly anachronistic. And so Angel and I commissioned a new production from Barcelona’s Ramon Oller – an original choreographic talent, whose well-traveled adaptation of Carmen (with the same splendid principal dancers — Sandrine Rouet and Javier Garcia – as Corregidor) ranges far afield from Bizet. The density of pantomime in Falla’s Corregidor is in Oller’s Corregidor replaced with a density of dance. It is a fascinating exercise. Will it travel? Can it rescue Corregidor? We will see.
One thing is certain: had there been no Diaghilev, and no Three-Cornered Hat, El Corregidor y la Molinera would today be beloved for its fandango, seguidilla, and countless other aromatic signatures of Falla’s genius.


  1. On that measure of a conductor–the impact on repertoire–I think of Gerard Schwarz, who has had a major impact on American music. It helps to have a focus–a period, genre, something. Influencing repetoire also takes public support, which is often the challenge, I think. It takes a strong personality to lead on that front.

  2. HI there,
    Major dance work… aha I have talked about it from long time

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