Juan Hidalgo: Celos aun del aire matan

By Louise K. Stein

The rare genre of Spanish opera was engendered by the need for royal progeny and a desire for political harmony in a turbulent period for the Spanish monarchy. La púrpura de la rosa (The blood of the rose, on the erotic story of Venus and Adonis) celebrated the Peace of the Pyrenees between Spain and France (signed on 7 November 1659) and the betrothal of the Infanta María Teresa to Louis XIV of France. As its pendant, Celos aun del aire matan (Jealousy, even of the air, kills; B187) commemorated the royal marriage. Celos is the first extant opera in Spanish and the most significant musical-theatrical work to survive from the vibrant culture of the Spanish siglo de oro. The composer Juan Hidalgo (1614–85) and the dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681) transformed the ancient myth of Cephalus and Procris so that chastity is dethroned by the power of womanly desire, while tragic consequences unfold when marital harmony is disturbed by neglect and jealousy. Its producer, Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán, 3rd marquis de Eliche, was the libertine son of King Philip IV’s first minister or valido, Luis Méndez de Haro. Eliche (known later in his life by his title as 7th marquis del Carpio) was unusually passionate in his defense of women, though he has been studied most often as a connoisseur of art and literature, patron of painters, bibliophile, and collector of antiquities. From a young age, he held court appointments whose responsibilities included the royal entertainments, from the hunting parties he organized at the Pardo and Zarzuela palaces to the nautical serenades performed by boatloads of musicians on the lake of the Buen Retiro. He was especially demanding as a producer of musical theater and machine plays with daring effects. In later life, during his years in Rome as Spanish ambassador to the Holy See (1677–82), he produced Spanish musical plays; as viceroy of Naples (1683–87), he installed Alessandro Scarlatti to lead the Neapolitan royal chapel, and produced enormously successful Italian operas at the viceroy’s palace and the public Teatro di San Bartolomeo.

Eliche had not yet been to Italy or heard an opera before he commissioned Celos aun del aire matan, but he surely learned about the genre during the years in which the Roman librettist Giulio Rospigliosi served as papal legate in Madrid. Baccio del Bianco, Philip IV’s Florentine stage engineer, reported that Rospigliosi was eager to introduce recitative, but he noted that the Spaniards were skeptical about the effectiveness of “speaking in song.” Celos aun del aire matan does not employ Italianate recitative; instead, flowing musical textures caress the ear with strophic tonos and persuasive declamatory tonadas. Hidalgo effectively invented Spanish recitado, which is more tuneful than mid-century Italian recitative. La púrpura de la rosa and Celos aun del aire matan were the only operas staged and revived in Madrid during the late seventeenth century. Both received long runs of private and public performances, and can claim to have been heard in more diverse locations than most Italian operas of the age. La púrpura de la rosa became the first opera produced in the Americas (Lima, 1701); Celos may have reached Vienna, seems to have been performed in Mexico, and was certainly performed in Naples.

The premiere of Celos aun del aire matan has often been assigned to early January 1661 at the Alcázar palace—where it would have been performed with limited effects in the dismountable theater. This date is unlikely, however, because many of the actress-singers were in France entertaining María Teresa at the time; their company did not return to Madrid until April 1661. The Coliseo theater at the Buen Retiro, not the Alcázar, is the theater named in the first printed edition of Calderón’s libretto. Eliche had supervised the renovation of this theater and equipped it with the necessary stage machines. The likely date of the premiere for Celos is 6 June 1661, when a “fiesta grande” with stage machines was performed in the Coliseo of the Buen Retiro after a dedicated period of rehearsals. That this was Celos aun del aire matan is confirmed in a letter sent from Madrid by an Italian diplomat on 8 June 1661, stating “the day before yesterday the performances began for the opera in música called Procri in the large theater of the Retiro.” Performances for the public continued until the beginning of the feast of Corpus Christi. Celos was revived in Madrid in 1679, with the involvement of both Hidalgo and Calderón, and again in 1684 and 1697. It traveled beyond Madrid, at least as far as Naples, and probably to Mexico and to Vienna, thanks to the web of political and dynastic Hapsburg relationships connecting these cities.

Celos is mentioned several times in the diplomatic correspondence between Madrid and Vienna, where the Infanta Margarita reigned as empress and consort to Leopold I. Already in the habit of receiving copies of other Spanish music, the emperor began asking specifically for the score of Celos only a month after her arrival, in a letter of 6 January 1667. But Celos seems not to have been performed in Vienna. A Spanish comedia was performed for Margarita by Spaniards in her entourage on 24 April 1667, only eleven days after one of Leopold’s many requests for Celos. This was Calderón’s Amado y aborrecido, a play whose pastoral love story, like that of Celos, focuses on the conflict between love and neglect or “anti-love,” and involves the goddesses Venus and Diana. An opera by Antonio Draghi with the title Gli amori di Cefalo e Procri was performed for Leopold’s birthday on 9 June 1668, but its plot and libretto do not draw on the Calderón-Hidalgo opera. It may be that Draghi’s opera was a practical alternative; Celos would have been difficult to produce in Vienna, given the number of Spanish-speaking soloists it required.

A lavish production of Celos was offered in Naples in 1682 to honor a dynastic marriage designed to preserve the “Spanish family” and territories in Italy. The marquis del Carpio, in Rome as Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, was involved in the tricky negotiations that led to the marriage between the Roman princess Lavinia Ludovisi and the Neapolitan Duke of Atri from the Acquaviva d’Aragona family. Celos was sponsored by Lavinia’s brother, Giovanni Battista Ludovisi, prince of Piombino and Venosa, and Carpio likely provided him with a copy of Hidalgo’s music. The opera was staged in a theater installed in the prince’s apartments in the Castel Nuovo and was said to cost “an almost royal sum.” According to one report, the Naples production “pleased the audience more for the beauty of the costumes and sets than for the quality of the musical performance and composition.” The “richness in the costumes and the stage sets” was admired, but the opera was “otherwise not in the best taste because it was done with Spanish music, and, as a consequence, was tedious.” Replete with strophic songs composed by Hidalgo just over twenty years earlier, the strophic songs naturally sounded old-fashioned in Naples in early 1682. The opera that preceded Celos in December 1681 for the queen mother’s birthday—Alessandro Scarlatti’s first operatic success, Gli equivoce nel sembiante (first performed in Rome in 1679)—was both opposite in spirit and replete with fully modern arias.


Louise K. Stein is Professor of Musicology at the University of Michigan. She holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and The University of Chicago, and has held visiting faculty appointments at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (1984–85), the Universidad Complutense in Madrid (1998), and the University of Chicago (1986–87, 2006). Her research has been supported by fellowships from the ACLS, the NEH, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Spain’s Ministry of Culture, the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities, and the American Philosophical Society. She received the 2013 John H. D’Arms Award for Distinguished Mentoring in the Humanities. Her first book, Songs of Mortals, Dialogues of the Gods: Music and Theatre in Seventeenth-Century Spain (Oxford, 1993) received an AMS publication subvention and the First Book Prize from the Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies. Her revised, expanded edition of Howard Mayer Brown, Music in the Renaissance (1999), also has been published in Croatian and Slovakian translations. She has collaborated on prize-winning recordings, including ¡Ay amor! from Mary Springfels and the Newberry Consort.

Her critical edition of Celos aun del aire matan (B187) was first performed in concert by Jordi Savall in Barcelona and Vienna. She was artistic advisor to the BMG recording of the first American opera, La púrpura de la rosa (Juan Hidalgo/Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco), directed by Andrew Lawrence-King and based on her edition (Madrid, 1999). The American Musicological Society awarded her the 1996 Noah Greenberg Award for “distinguished contributions to the study and performance of early music.” Her current book projects are “Opera and the Integration of Public Life in Naples under the marquis del Carpio” and “Spaniards at the Opera.”