Chad M. Gasta
Opera was performed in the Spanish-speaking New World colonies almost a century before what later would become the United States. The first operas staged in the Spanish colonies were wildly elaborate projects funded by the viceroys—Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco’s La púrpura de la rosa, in Lima, Peru, in 1701, and Manuel Zumaya’s Parténope, in Mexico City in 1711. These were followed by two operas written to convey religious didactic messages in the remote Jesuit Missions of South America: Domenico Zipoli’s San Ignacio (ca. 1720) and the anonymous San Xavier (ca. 1730), the latter of which was composed in the indigenous Bolivian Chiquitano language with a parallel Spanish libretto. All derived from the Italian opera tradition but were decisively shaped by Spanish musical theater, and they were indebted to the first operas in Madrid, which predated them: Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio’s fully sung La selva sin amor, from 1627, performed by the Florentine delegation, and a pair of operas from 1659 and 1660 by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La púrpura de la rosa (whose libretto served as the basis for Torrejón’s 1701 version) and Celos aun del aire matan. These early Spanish operas were part of a process of political and ideological posturing since they were funded and produced either by nobility intent on displaying their wealth, prestige, and power, or by leaders of the Church who were seeking to impart a particular religious message to embolden its influence. These grand spectacles did not usher in a stunning opera tradition in Spain, any more than their progeny in the New World would. For a variety of financial, political, and cultural reasons, a sustained or successful opera tradition would not occur until the second half of the 19th century in Spain or the New World. Perhaps importantly, these productions reflected the movement of goods and people from the Old World to the New, and opera played an exceptional role in shaping political and social events in the metropolitan centers and in minority peripheries in both Spain and the New World.