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The House of Bernarda Alba

Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Fri, December 21, 2018 18:57:20

The House of Bernarda Alba is now open to the public as the third Lorca-related museum on the Vega, where the poet-playwright first saw the light of day and learnt to walk, read and write, then started to write music, and finally drama and poems.

The first of these, in Fuente Vaqueros, where the poet-playwright was born on 5 June 1898, was opened to the public in 1986.

The second is the house in Valderrubio that his father bought in 1895 along with a deal of farmland along the banks of the River Cubillas. This house was the centre of Federico Senior’s commercial-agricultural operations for many years and was opened to the public as a museum and cultural centre in the Lorca Anniversary Year of 1998.

The house of the Alba family, Frasquita not Bernarda in reality, is built along the same functional lines as the other two, with two floors, storage space for grain and harvested crops, and a spacious courtyard for agricultural operations. When Valderrubio became an independent rural council in 2013 one of its priorities, finally achieved with its inauguration on 18 December 2018, was to convert the house into a museum.

The Alba family was one of three families which vied for social and economic prominence in the area, the others being García Rodríguez, the poet’s father, and Alejandro Roldán Benavides. For an account of the bitter inter-family and internecine disputes and rivalries between these three families that festered for over half a century I refer you to historian Miguel Caballero Pérez, whose study Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca (2011) identifies these conflicts and rivalries as a key factor leading to the murder of the poet in August 1936. See this blog’s post #64.

According to Javier Arroyo (El País, 19.12.2018), the role of Bernarda Alba was created specially for Margarita Xirgú who, after her acclaimed lead role in Doña Rosita la soltera, requested the part of “a villain” in Lorca’s next drama. That was in December 1935 and we know the new play, though not published or performed until many years later, had a public reading a few days prior to the nationalist uprising in July 1936 to a chosen section of Granada’s culturally sensitive bourgeoisie, among which would have figured relatives or friends of the Alba and Roldán families.

We know that Frasquita’s descendants did not welcome visitors and Agustín Penón was the only Lorca researcher that I know of who managed to get through the front door.

I managed to slip in the back when they were building the new flats next door, many years ago. See pics.

Lorca claims to remember Frasquita as a widow of advanced age who exercised a veritable reign of terror over her unfortunate unmarried daughters who he might occasionally cross in the street, always dressed in black, silent, their eyes downcast, avoiding eye and any kind of social contact.

The story goes that Frasquita Alba’s neighbour was Lorca’s Aunt Matilde, whose daughter Mercedes Rodríguez Delgado the poet was fond of and would visit with some frequency. The two houses shared a well built beneath the wall that divided the properties and through this well Lorca was able to eavesdrop on exchanges going on between members of the Alba household. These eavesdropping sessions provided Lorca with much of the material for his somewhat libellous play. “Change the surname, too,” his mother pleaded.

Be that as it may, it is known that Frasquita died in 1924, aged 66, that is, some eleven years before Lorca started working on the play with the villainous role requested by Xirgú. Not only that but, although she had five daughters, two by a first husband and three by a second, she also had two sons, one by each of her husbands. Furthermore, she was outlived by one year by her second husband, Alejandro Rodríguez Capilla. So we can that see the exclusively female composition of the household is an invention of Lorca’s, and that Bernarda is not Frasquita.

Another invention is the servant “La Poncia” working here, for although she lived in the village, she never served in this house. Says Ian Gibson. En Granada, su Granada …(1997).

The raison d’être of this new museum is, of course, first of all to focus on the importance of the work La Casa de Bernarda Alba, connecting it to the local customs and traditions of rural society in pre-Franco Spain on the one hand and to the village of Valderubio as a source of inspiration for the local universal poet-dramatist. Visits can be booked via https://www.lacasadebernardaalba.info during which a cast of actors will reproduce crucial passages from the play. The visit lasts an hour and a half, of which the performances take up some 40 minutes.

Sources:

Enrique Abuín. Granada Hoy, 18.12.2018
Javier Arroyo. El País, 19.12.2018



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