OPEN STAGES ONLINE: Life of Lorca, Part 1

by Walter Bilderback, Production Dramaturg

Federico Garcia Lorca was perhaps the most important Spanish-language writer of the first half of the 20th century, known both for his poetry and his plays. During his short life, he wrote thirteen plays, the best-known of which are Blood Wedding (1932), Yerma (1934), and The House of Bernarda Alba (1936).

Early Life

Garcia Lorca was born in 1898, the son of a well-to-do Andalusian landowner. He studied music from a young age, becoming a talented pianist: his love and knowledge of music would profoundly shape his writing and his stage direction in later years.

Lorca’s birthplace, Asquerosa (now Valderrubio), was a town with many similarities to the setting of Blood Wedding. His father was known for treating his workers well, but the young Lorca, seeing the harsh conditions in which the peasants worked and the equally harsh restrictions placed on women in a conservative, rural, Catholic setting, had a keen sense of his privilege from a young age. From a young age, he seems to have has a tragic vision of life. His biographer Leslie Stainton says that “Lorca learned early on that life and death were two halves of an indecipherable whole.”

Lorca (standing left) with his mother, sister Concha, father, and brother, c. 1912.

Lorca left home for university in Madrid, where he studied and lived in La Residencia, an intellectual and artistic hotbed of the period. There he became known as a leader of the group of young writers and artists there, many influenced by Symbolism and Surrealism, who were re-invigorating Spanish literature. Among his friends at the time were the young artists Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel.

Lorca achieved fame in Spain at a young age with his first volume of poems. He also became a friend and collaborator of the composer Manuel de Falla, through whom he developed a strong interest in traditional Spanish music and dance, particularly the cante jondo (or “deep song”), a particularly old relative of flamenco. “Deep song is imbued with the mysterious color of primordial ages,” Lorca said in a lecture on the subject. It “is akin to the trilling of birds, the crowing of the rooster, and the natural music of forest and fountain” and “comes from the first sob and the first kiss.” His volume Poem of the Deep Song, written in 1921 but not published until 1931, reflects this interest. Many of these poems anticipate images and themes that reappear in Blood Wedding. Here are two:

Surprise

He lay dead in the street
With a knife in the heart
No one knew him.
How the street-lamp trembled!
Mother.
How the little street-lamp
Trembled!
It was early morning. No one
Could look at his eyes
Open to the harsh air.
For he lay dead in the street
With a knife in the heart
And no one knew him.

(trans, Gwynne Edwards)

 

The Six Strings

The guitar
cries out to dreams.
The sobs of the lost
souls
escape from its round
mouth.
And like a tarantula
it weaves a great star
to catch sighs,
floating in their black
cistern of wood.

(trans, Caleb Beissert)

Lorca with his younger sister, Isabel, in 1914.

Blood Wedding runs from October 25 – November 19.
Get your tickets at WilmaTheater.org/BloodWedding

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