The House of Bernarda Alba

The House of Bernarda Alba, with text by the composer based on the play La Casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, was composed between 1997 and 2004. The music is for ten soloists, separate male and female choruses, and full orchestra.


Short synopsis:

[The action takes place in a village in Southern Spain during the 1920s]

[Act 1. A room in Bernarda's house]

Returning from the funeral of Bernarda's second husband Antonio Benavides, Poncia complains to women guests of Bernarda's meanness and her unwillingness to let her daughters wed. Bernarda and her daughters enter. Overhearing the women gossiping about a possible relationship between Angustias and a local gypsy Pepe el Romano, Bernarda becomes annoyed and orders all her guests to leave. Alone with her family she tells them that they will go into mourning for seven years and avoid contacts with the village during that period. Poncia remonstrates against Bernarda's policy, but Bernarda remains unmoved.

Left to themselves Magdalena and Martirio discuss Angustias' affair with Pepe. They think it odd, given that the pair are ill-matched. Martirio suspects that Pepe's real interest is not in Angustias but in the much younger and prettier Adela. She tries to probe Adela's feelings when Adela reappears, but Adela angrily tells her to mind her own business. They are interrupted by the sound of a male chorus coming down the street. The chorus sings of the joys of lovemaking. Bernarda catches all four of her daughters trying to listen to the men. She refuses to let Angustias leave for an agreed rendez-vous with Pepe. The aged Maria Josefa unexpectedly appears from the patio, proclaiming that while none of her granddaughters will wed, she is determined to do so again. Bernarda orders Poncia to lock her up.

[Act 2. The inner courtyard of Bernarda's house a month after the events of Act 1]

Bernarda, Poncia, Magdalena and Martirio listen to a distant male chorus shouting "Kill her, kill the harlot". A breathless Prudencia enters, explaining that the men of the village are lynching a young, unmarried mother who has been discovered murdering and burying her newborn baby. Bernarda launches into a speech about the necessity of keeping unmarried girls 'intact' for the honour of the family. Prudencia enquires about Angustias' engagement. Bernarda replies that Pepe's family will be coming in three days' time to ask for her.

Angustias bursts in on the conversation accusing her sisters of stealing a portrait of Pepe from her room. None of the girls owns up. Prudencia finds this a convenient moment to leave. Bernarda now rounds on her children for squabbling in front of a neighbour. She orders Poncia to search their rooms for the portrait. Poncia returns having discovered the picture under Martirio's pillow. Martirio is physically beaten by Bernarda as punishment. All four girls are ordered to bed.

Left alone with Bernarda Poncia warns her of trouble among the girls. Angered that her warnings are getting nowhere, Poncia lets slip that Pepe has been trying to see Adela; she is his real sweetheart. This shakes Bernarda, who cannot believe Adela would disobey her. Nonetheless she orders that from the following day Adela, Martirio and Magdalena must sleep together in one room and never be allowed out alone. She tells Poncia to fetch Angustias to her. When Angustias arrives, her mother tells her she should marry as soon as possible. She retires having received assurance from Angustias that Pepe is away that night.

There is a long pause as night descends.

In the darkness Maria Josefa appears carrying a little lamb. She scuttles off to the larder to find it some milk. Adela appears, still dressed, and slips out of the gate into the yard beyond. Martirio enters and is about to follow her when Maria Josefa returns. Martirio shoves her back to her room. She exits through the gate and returns dragging Adela after her. Adela admits she is about to elope with Pepe and begs Martirio not to obstruct her. Martirio, who declares she is also in love with Pepe, bars her exit. Martirio shouts for help and awakes Bernarda, Poncia and her other sisters. On learning that Pepe is expected, Bernarda tells Poncia to fetch her gun. Hearing a noise in the yard, Bernarda fires and injures Pepe, who runs off. Adela, realising that her lover is unlikely to return for her, rushes to her room in tears.

Disturbed that Adela has locked her door, Bernarda tells Poncia to break the door down. Poncia heaves against the door, which gives. She discovers Adela's hanging body. Bernarda orders the body to be cut down. The death, she says, was an accident. The world is to know that Adela died intact.

Short sections of the work were performed in a concert version with piano accompaniment at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. in April 2006. A staged production however has yet to occur.

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This page last updated 8/5/16.

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