The Three-Cornered Hat
El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat or Le tricorne) is a ballet choreographed by Léonide Massine to music by Manuel de Falla, commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev and premiered complete in 1919. It is not only a ballet with Spanish setting but one that also employs the techniques of Spanish dance (adapted and somewhat simplified) instead of classical ballet.
The story – a magistrate infatuated with a miller's faithful wife attempts to seduce her – derives from the novella by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (born in Granada) and has been adapted to film several times, usually in Spanish. The music has these sections:
- Introducción — Introduction
- La Tarde - Afternoon
- Danza de la molinera (Fandango) — Dance of the Miller's Wife
- Las uvas — The Grapes
- Danza de los vecinos (Seguidillas) — Dance of the Neighbors
- Danza del molinero (Farruca) — Dance of the Miller
- Danza del corregidor — Dance of the Magistrate
- Danza final (Jota)
As El corregidor y la molinera
During World War I Manuel de Falla wrote a pantomime ballet in two scenes and called it The Magistrate and the Miller's Wife (El corregidor y la molinera). The work was scored for a small chamber orchestra and was performed in 1917.
As El sombrero de tres picos
Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes, saw the premiere of El corregidor y la molinera and commissioned Falla to rewrite it. The outcome was a two-act ballet scored for large orchestra called The Three-Cornered Hat (El sombrero de tres picos). This was first performed in London at the Alhambra Theatre on 22 July 1919. Sets and costumes were created by Pablo Picasso. Choreography was by Léonide Massine. Diaghilev asked Falla to conduct the premiere but the composer felt he was not experienced enough to conduct a work so complex and he handed the baton to Ernest Ansermet after one rehearsal.
After a short fanfare the curtain rises revealing a mill in Andalusia. The miller is trying to teach a pet blackbird to tell the time. He tells the bird to chirp twice, but instead it chirps three times. Annoyed, the miller scolds the bird and tells it to try again. The bird now chirps four times. The miller gets angry at the bird again and his wife offers it a grape. The bird takes the grape and chirps twice. The miller and his wife laugh over this and continue their work.
Soon the magistrate, his wife, and their bodyguard pass by, taking their daily walk. The procession goes by and the couple returns to their work. The dandified, but lecherous, magistrate is heard coming back. The miller tells his wife that he will hide and that they will play a trick on the magistrate.
The miller hides and the magistrate sees the miller's wife dancing. After her dance she offers him some grapes. When the magistrate gets the grapes the miller's wife runs away with the magistrate following her. Finally he catches her, and the miller jumps out of a bush with a stick. The miller chases the magistrate away and the miller and his wife continue working.
That night, guests are at the miller's house. The miller dances to entertain them. His dance is interrupted by the magistrate's bodyguard, who has come to arrest him on trumped-up charges. After the miller is taken away, the guests leave one by one. The miller's wife goes to sleep and soon the magistrate comes to the mill. On his way to the door the magistrate trips and falls in the river. The miller's wife wakes up and runs away.
The magistrate undresses and hangs his clothes on a tree and goes to sleep in the miller's bed. The miller has escaped from prison and sees the magistrate in his bed. The miller thinks that the magistrate is sleeping with his wife and plans to switch clothes with the magistrate and avenge himself by seducing the magistrate's wife. The miller leaves, dressed as the magistrate, and the magistrate soon wakes up. He goes outside and sees that his clothes are gone, so he dresses in the miller's clothes. The bodyguard comes and sees the magistrate dressed as the miller and goes to arrest him. The miller's wife sees the bodyguard fighting with what looks like her husband and joins in the fight. The miller comes back and sees his wife in the fight and joins it to protect her. The magistrate explains the entire story and the ballet ends with the miller's guests tossing the magistrate up and down in a blanket.
Throughout the ballet Falla uses traditional Andalusian folk music. The two songs sung by the mezzo-soprano are examples of cante jondo singing; this typically accompanies flamenco music and tells a sad story. At one point (the Farruca) he quotes the opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
There are many recordings of the complete ballet, as well as of the suites extracted from it. In the early 1960s Ernest Ansermet, the original conductor of the work, recorded it in stereo for London Records (aka Decca). The music was played by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the cante-jondo soloist was Teresa Berganza. It has also been recorded by such conductors as Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and Jesús López-Cobos, and Leonard Bernstein has recorded the two suites from the ballet with the New York Philharmonic.
The Paris Opera Ballet has recently issued a performance of the complete ballet on a DVD entitled Picasso and Dance. The performance uses not only Massine's original choreography, but actual reproductions of Picasso's sets and costumes. It is, so far, the only performance of the ballet issued on video.
- Walter Terry, Ballet Guide, 1976, p. 342
- "Mansfield Tickets".