Perhaps influenced by Bizet’s Carmen of 30 years previous, Manuel de Falla’s opera, La vida breve (Spanish for Life is Short or The Brief Life), tells the story of a passionate Romanian woman. Influenced significantly by Claude Debussy, Falla transformed the opera from its initial incarnation as a number opera into a work characterized by a more continuous musical texture and mature orchestration. This revised version, premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in December 1913, stands as the standard rendition.
Set in a local forge, the opera introduces a male chorus of anvil workers immersed in their trade. The central narrative revolves around Salud, a young Romanian woman deeply in love with Paco, unaware that he is already promised to another. Salud’s uncle, Sarvaor, and her grandmother, La abuela, attempt to thwart her from disrupting Paco’s impending wedding. Act II unfolds in a confrontation during the festivities, ultimately leading to Salud’s heartbreak and her dramatic demise at Paco’s feet, a poignant manifestation of contempt for a former lover.
Noteworthy for its equal balance of vocal and instrumental sections, La vida breve is rarely performed in its entirety today. However, its orchestral segments, particularly the “Interlude and Dance” from Act II, have endured in popularity. This music gained further recognition through violinist Fritz Kreisler’s 1926 arrangement for violin and piano, titled “Spanish Dance No. 1.” The Interlude exudes a dark and nocturnal atmosphere, setting a contemplative tone. In contrast, the Dance section is a vibrant and exuberant display of color, showcasing Falla’s masterful orchestration and his ardent celebration of Spanish musical traditions.