Chronicle of an unexpected adventure
One day, Francesc Cassú telephoned me because he and Josep Lagares had an idea going round in their heads. I knew Francesc Cassú through his professional renown as the director of La Principal de la Bisbal; he was also recording an album of sardanas, one of them written by my father, and he had invited us, his children, to come to the studio to watch them recording. And now he was calling me because Josep Lagares...
“Who is Josep Lagares?” - I asked.
It didn’t take long for me to find out who he was. One of the qualities of our land (among many) is that there are men and women such as the founders of Floïd, the Grífols and Lagares who very quietly and without seeking any type of fame or recognition generate movement and work in Catalonia. The idea that he presented us with, when the three of us met, was to create an opera with a distinctly Catalan identity, but without needing to make it explicit.
“What should it be about?”
“That’s up to you: suggest some themes.”
Later, at home, I remember spending days weighing up possible subjects, until I finally came up with Llull: he was our man. Ramon Llull lived a life so spectacularly full of travels, studies, discussions, writing, readings... that the opera could easily go on for hours. For that reason, I decided to begin in media res, setting the story during Llull’s temptation in Genoa, when he was already an old man, despondent because of his disappointment with the powerful. And I decided to make a real ‘gem’ of a man from Girona, the inquisitor Nicolau Eimeric, a contemporary of Llull’s, even though he was, in fact, born a year or two after Llull’s death but, nevertheless, bore him a deep ‘professional’ loathing. He hated Llull’s ‘harmful doctrine’ and his very person. Blanca and Magdalena, Llull’s wife and daughter, were easily persuaded to come to my aid. Llull, because of his obsession with converting unbelievers, had broken off contact with them. However, I had to do without his son. In contrast, I could not resist bringing Pope Clement and King Philip of France into the story.
Although I have invented some minor situations, I must say that the most striking and implausible tales are true; Llull considered the Mediterranean his home and he made dozens of journeys by land and sea. I took the precaution of asking professor Lola Badia to take a look at the libretto, in case she found any blunders that went beyond the realms of narrative freedom required by a work of fiction about a historical figure. Once the libretto had been retouched, reread and discussed, for several long days, in close collaboration with Lagares and Cassú, and improved between all of us, Cassú began the huge task of writing the music as well as suggesting tiny changes or nuances to be added to the text, which we cannot consider definitive until the curtain finally rises.
Ramon Llull was a contradictory man: bad-tempered, sullen, hard-working, true to his beliefs, capable of offering the world treatises and logical reasons to embrace Christianity. And, what’s more, he had the futile aspiration to regenerate the Church. He wrote novels (without realising it), poetry, treatises, dialogues and other texts in Catalan. He also translated into or wrote directly in Latin and Arabic, depending on who the works were addressed to. A colossal task: in prose alone, 243 books have been attributed to him, while it is known that there are also many other lost works. Llull never valued writing from the perspective of artistic expression: he wrote in order to convert unbelievers. But, he wrote so well (think of a jewel as wonderful as The Book of the Lover and the Beloved) and so prolifically that he is considered the founding architect of Catalan literature. Without realising it, he was sowing the seeds of the future.
The Lagares and Metalquimia, with their initiatives and their aid, solidify the present by making the opera premiering today possible; they are also sowing the seeds of the future.