Xirgu Subirá, Margarita

Margarita Xirgu

Margarita Xirgu is a Catalan actress who opened the Spanish theater to the new airs of the twentieth century; eventually she became one of the main actresses of Federico García Lorca and one of those who represented more of his works, from Mariana Pineda, in 1927, to The House of Bernarda Alba, premiered posthumously in Buenos Aires in 1945. After an extraordinary professional career, which led her to the main theaters of Latin America, where she premiered the works of the major playwrights of the time, including Valle Inclán, circumstances forced her to go into exile in Latin America after the uprising of 1936. She died almost forgotten in Montevideo (Uruguay) in 1968.

The first allusion to Lorca by Xirgu in the extensive epistolary that she shared with her collaborators is from 1927 and the subject is the staging of Mariana Pineda with sets by Salvador Dalí.

Xirgu’s artistic biography consists of three distinct chronological stages. The first, when she started out, spans from 1906 to 1912, and was devoted to the Catalan theater. Her first group, in 1902, was an amateur company. In 1910, she formed her own company and began to accumulate a great prestige that later spread halfway around the world. The second phase runs from 1912 until the tragic year of 1936, and is devoted to theater in Spanish. In 1914, she moved to Madrid where she premiered Divine Words, by Valle Inclán, and worked on plays by some of the great international playwrights of the time, such as D’Anunzzio, Barnard Shaw and Alejandro Casona, premiering the latter’s The Beached Mermaid ).

Lorca first saw the Catalan actress perform on March 13, 1915 at the Cervantes Theater in Granada where she stars in Hugo Holfmannsthal’s version of Elektra, by Euripides. Federico attends the performance accompanied by his teacher Martín Domínguez Berrueta and some of the members of El Rinconcillo. Xirgu is 27 years old and the future playwright is 17. The company remains in Granada until March 21. So deep is Lorca’s impression of her that, when he finishes Mariana Pineda, in 1926, he tries to send a copy of the libretto to the actress through Eduardo Marquina. The copy never reaches her hands, but leads to a meeting at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid.

Tribute to Federico García Lorca and Margarita Xirgu (in the photo, seated between Lorca and Falla) at the Alhambra Palace Hotel in Granada.
Tribute to Federico García Lorca and Margarita Xirgu (in the photo, seated between Lorca and Falla) at the Alhambra Palace Hotel in Granada.
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The first allusion to Lorca by Xirgu in the extensive epistolary she shared with her collaborators is from 1927 and the subject is the staging of Mariana Pineda with sets by Salvador Dalí. In the letters the actress complains about the low box office takings of the play. The play was performed on June 24 of that year at the Goya Theater in Barcelona and on October 12 at the Fontalba Theater in Madrid after Gregorio Martínez Sierra gave up producing it due to the censorship of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. The premiere in Granada, in 1929, is followed by a tribute to the actress at the theater of the Hotel Alhambra Palace organized by the Board of Directors of the Actors’ Union. During dessert, the director of El Defensor de Granada, Constantino Ruiz Carnero, said proudly: “García Lorca, renovator of the Spanish lyric, was discovered by the people of Granada themselves, and we have said to Madrid and the rest of Spain: there you have a poet who was born in Granada and who has all the magnificence of this prodigious Andalusian land”.  Federico, for his part, read: “Margarita has the restlessness of the theater, the fever of multiple temperaments. I always see her at the crossroads of all heroines, a goal swept by a dark wind where the aorta sings as if it were a nightingale”.

From then on, Xirgu became a faithful collaborator of the Granada playwright. She premiered The ShoemakeR?S Prodigious Wifea at Christmas in 1930, after two years of preparations, at the Spanish Theater in Madrid, directed by Cipriano Rivas Cherif, and in 1934 Yerma. In the last part of her second artistic period, in Barcelona, in 1935, she brought to the stage the last theatrical work by García Lorca premiered in his lifetime, Doña Rosita the Spinster or the Language of the Flowers. The actress planned to premiere it next in Madrid on her return from a tour of Mexico, to which she invited Federico, but the Civil War prevented it. Both had planned to travel to Mexico, along with Juan Ramírez de Lucas, Lorca’s lover, then a minor.

García Lorca, Margarita Xirgu and Rivas Cherif. / Photo: Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya.
García Lorca, Margarita Xirgu and Rivas Cherif. / Photo: Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya.

In 1935 she was able to stage again in Barcelona Blood WeddiNG with sets by José Caballero. In 1945, she starred in The House of Bernarda Alba. she also worked in the film version of Blood Wedding directed by Edmundo Guibourg in 1938.

The third part of her artistic life spans from 1937 to 1968 and develops in exile in several Latin American countries (Chile, Paraguay where she was the most prolific actress of all, because during her theatrical career she also worked as a teacher: in several countries, she founded the School of Dramatic Art, where she organized short courses, gave lectures and animated conferences). The American recognition did not alleviate the disdain of the Franco dictatorship. The actress, ill, underwent a desperate operation in Montevideo on April 24 and died a day later. Her death goes unnoticed in Spain.

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