Art Imitates Art in 'Goyescas'

            The action takes place in Madrid, around 1800. The characters are part of the majismo -- a segment from the lower classes of Spanish society, known for their devotion to style, their elaborate dress, and a sort of bohemian independence of thought.

            Goyescas has three scenes, and begins outside a church, not far from a river. The opening scene is based on a Goya painting called "El Pelele." A pelele is a large effigy of a person, stuffed with straw, and the painting depicts a straw man being tossed from an outstretched bed sheet by a group of young women.

            The action begins with a gathering of people talking and chattering. They're joined by a well-known ladies’ man named Paquiro. He's quickly surrounded by women -- at least until his fiancée Pepa arrives, riding in a dog-cart, or calesa. She's followed by the wealthy noblewoman Rosario, carried in her sedan chair.

            Rosario is looking for her own lover, Fernando, but she quickly draws the attention of Paquiro, who invites her to a dance that evening. Just then, Fernando arrives and butts in. He accuses Rosario of flirting, then announces that she will

attend the dance, but that he will be accompanying her. This leaves Paquiro feeling slighted, so he and Pepa plan to get even as the scene ends. It's followed by the opera's most famous individual number -- an orchestral intermezzo that's frequently heard in the concert hall.

            Scene Two takes place that night, at the dance. Fernando enters, along with a reluctant Rosario. The moment she arrives, Pepa begins to mock her. When Fernando vows to defend Rosario's honor, Paquiro loudly asks her to dance with him. This offends Fernando, and as the crowd dances a fandango, the two men agree to fight a duel.

            In Scene Three, later that night, Rosario sits in a garden, under the moonlight, listening to the song of a nightingale. She's joined by Fernando, and the two share a tender moment. They're interrupted by Paquiro, ready for the duel.

            Rosario begs Fernando to stay with her, but he promises to return soon, and leaves with Paquiro. Rosario waits a moment, then follows behind. Screams are heard. It's Fernando, mortally wounded by Paquiro, who quickly flees. Rosario finds Fernando, and gently helps him back to the garden, where he dies in her arms as the opera ends.