While Zumaya’s “Partenope” is recognized by music historians as the first opera created by a New World-born composer, Tomas de Torrejon y Velasco’s “La purpura de la rosa” (in English, “The Blood of the Rose”) was the first opera both composed and performed in the western hemisphere.
Velasco’s work premiered in Lima, Peru on December 1701. It is the composer’s only surviving work.
The opera, created at the request of the Viceroy of Peru, celebrated Philip V of Spain and was set to a Spanish-language libretto by Spanish Golden Age writer Pedro Calderon de la Barca. With a story based on the adventures of Venus and Adonis as told by the famous ancient Greek poet Ovid, it became popular throughout colonial Spain for its adventure and eroticism.
The popularity led to revivals throughout the Spanish Empire, particularly in Peru and Mexico.
Today, “La purpura de la rosa” is performed throughout the world as recently as 2015 and is remembered as a great example of the Spanish Baroque style.
Short Plot Summary
During Velasco’s time, operas began with a prologue-type piece, called a “loa,” which served to acknowledge the real-life person honored by the work. The “loa” dates back to ancient Greek tradition, where dramas began with an appeal to Apollo, the god of music. In “La purpura de la rosa,” the muses of Greek myth sing praise to Spain and its king. The opera begins with a nod to Philip V, as the opening verses cry, “Viva Filipo, viva!”
The story begins with Venus, goddess of love, hunting in a forest. After being threatened by a wild boar, Venus is saved by Adonis–a man who has sworn off all love. Venus wrestles with her feelings for the mortal who saved her and summons Cupid to strike Adonis with an arrow. Adonis awakens after falling asleep in the forest and finds Venus to confess his love.
Mars, the god of war, becomes incredibly jealous of Venus’ attraction to the mortal Adonis. To protect the love between Venus and Adonis, Cupid spies on Mars. Mars is warned against being jealous of Venus and Adonis by the masked personifications of Fear, Suspicion, Envy, Anger, and Bitterness. Meanwhile, Venus and Adonis stay happily in the goddess’ garden, though they are warned by Cupid of Mars’ rage. Venus sends Adonis into the forest to protect him, where he again encounters the wild boar, this time controlled to be especially violent by Mars himself. Adonis is wounded by the boar, to the horror of Venus. The gods on Mount Olympus, particularly Jupiter, have pity for the couple. Adonis is reborn as a flower, and Venus becomes the Evening Star.
Watch & Listen
The “loa” of the opera:
A complete recording of the work: