On May 22, 1920, Basque composer Jesús Guridi‘s opera Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII (Amaya or the Basques in the eighth century) was performed for the first time at the Coliseo Alba opera house in Bilbao. The premiere starred Spanish soprano Ofelia Nieto in the title role, Polish soprano/mezzo-soprano Aga Lahowska, Basque tenor Isidoro Fagoaga, Italian bass-baritone Giulio Cirino, and Basque bass Gabriel Olaizola as well as the Bilbao Choral Society (conducted by Guridi himself), with music by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ricard Lamote de Grignon. It is an opera in three acts and an epilogue. The Spanish libretto was written by José María Arroita Jauregui, with a Basque version by Brother José de Arrúe.
The opera was based on a Romantic historical novel of the same title by Francisco Navarro Villoslada, originally published in journal installments from 1877 onward, which combined elements of Basque folklore, mythology, and historical fact. The setting is Navarre in the eight century and the plot surrounds a twofold power struggle: on the one hand that of Basque pagans and Christians, and, on the other, a more earthly conflict among Basques, Visigoths, and Muslims, in which the noblewoman Amaya, the descendant of the Basque ancestral patriarch Aitor, is the central character. She ultimately marries the Basque resistance leader García/Gartzea and together they establish the royal house of Navarre.
Listen here to Parts I, II, and III of the Epilogue (with score). And see the famed Ezpatadantza or sword-dance, also part of the opera, in a 1992 performance here:
Jesús Guridi in 1915. on the occasion of a performamce of his opera Mirentxu in Madrid. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Embracing a Wagnerian aesthetic and clearly rooted in Basque folklore, Guridi gave each character in the opera their own melody, rhythm, and instrumentation. Thought and structure coincide completely in the work, which proved a triumph for the composer from Araba, earning him a great reputation for his attention to dramatic composition.
His other Basque-themed works include Mirentxu (1910), El caserío (The farmstead, 1926), and Diez melodías vascas (Ten Basque melodies, 1940). Curiously, he was also the author of Homenaje a Walt Disney (Homage to Walt Disney, 1956). He died at the age of seventy-four in 1961.
If you’re interested in this topic, check out Basque Classical Music by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, free to download here, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute.
Be sure to also take a look at the website of the marvelous Basque music archive, Eresbil, which features a comprehensive record of all kinds of Basque music, musicians, and composers, and at which you can listen to original recordings, download scores, and so on.