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On January 6, 1899, the 3-act opera Chanton Piperri (also spelled Txanton Piperri) was performed for the first time in Donostia-San Sebastián.  It was the first ever full opera in the Basque language, with words by the renowned poet Toribio Altzaga (1861-1941) and music by Buenaventura Zapirain (1873-1937).

Reflecting the Romanticist tendencies celebrating nations that were sweeping Europe at the time, the Basque Country is itself front and center in the opera. The story concerns the damaging effects of the bloody medieval “clan wars” on the country, which only achieves a lasting peace at the dawn of the Renaissance following a miraculous appearance of the Virgin of Arantzazu.

As in other Romanticist operas, the chorus takes on the role of the “people,” in the case the Basque people, driving the dramatic narrative of the plot. Besides this, with three tenors, two baritones, and one bass among the principal singers, there is a marked presence of male voices. In contrast, only one soprano, in the figure of Maricho, takes center stage. That said, the character of Maricho is supported by other female voices in her major appearances: her entrance during the first act, at the end of the second act, and during the grand finale.

Information taken from Patricio Urquizu Sarasua, Teatro Vasco. Historia, reseñas y entrevistas, anotología bilingüe, catálogo e ilustraciones (Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, 2010), pp. 158-59.

The music from the opera was performed during the opening ceremony to welcome in the awarding of the European City of Culture title to Donostia-San Sebastián in May 2016. See the full program for that event, with the music and scores (which can be downloaded) here.

If you’re interested in classical music, be sure to check out Basque Classical Music by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute. It’s free to download here.