"Come uninspired comedies that flatter the public. Stupid! "| Culture

"How many efforts you make to educate the public are useless. Come uninspired comedies that flatter vices and defects of the public, thus applaud themselves. Stupid! " This could have been said by any actor or theater director now active, but he wrote it a century ago Margarita Xirgu in a letter addressed to the dramatist Joaquín Montaner in which he informed him of the failure in Valencia of his work The illuminated night, which the actress had performed a year earlier in Madrid with great success but did not like outside the capital. At that time, the artist had to balance to keep her company afloat on commercial circuits, combining high-risk premieres (Wilde, Ibsen, Shaw, Lorca, Alberti) with others of guaranteed profitability (Álvarez Quintero, Benavente, Galdós). "What the intellectuals want does not want the public; and what is available to the brains of the maids, the intellectuals protest, "he lamented in another letter to Montaner.

Margarita Xirgu, myth of the twentieth century Spanish scene and symbol of republican exile, suffered in the flesh the eternal dilemma of theater between art and box office. It is a theme that appears recurrently in the nearly five hundred letters written by the actress who have managed to compile the researchers Manuel Aznar Soler and Francesc Foguet i Boreu. Many had already been published in partial correspondence, but much remained unpublished in family files or scattered in public archives and museums. Read all together and ordered in a single volume, edited now by Renaissance, they offer an unknown dimension of the actress: that of the woman behind the legend.

Letter from Margarita Xirgu to Miguel de Unamuno in 1915.
Letter from Margarita Xirgu to Miguel de Unamuno in 1915.

The voice of the myth is expressed in the first person full of contradictions. First, artistic contradictions. Read the letter he sent to Unamuno in 1915 to explain why he refused to stage his work Fedra: "The nature of the matter is so inappropriate for theater audiences that I frequent with my company, that I am forced to decline for this time the honor of being an interpreter of a work of his." And the fear that took him to the works of Lorca after almost ruined by the failure of Mariana Pineda: "I told Lorca that he would do The prodigious shoemaker, but without telling him the commitments he had made, or when, "he confesses to Montaner in 1929.

But the Xirgu would not have gone down in history if it had allowed itself to be overcome by the "servitudes of commercial theater", as she said. "He was able to skillfully combine the popular repertoire with more avant-garde works, alternating between them to compensate for box office failures. Art for her was above everything, even her own convictions. She was very religious, puritanical, going to church on Sundays, but that did not stop her from playing kisses on stage or going out with transparent clothes to the stage ", explains Foguet i Boreu. "I'm not happy with the way I feel about Shaw's theater, but I admire and applaud him. Neither with the protagonists of Ibsen nor with the gloomy Russian theater and have my admiration. What good would intelligence do if we only liked what flatters our feelings? ", Commented the artist in another letter to Montaner.

Benito Pérez Galdós and Margarita Xirgu, in 1916.
Benito Pérez Galdós and Margarita Xirgu, in 1916.

In the correspondence also emerges, of course, the immense political dimension of the Xirgu. And again contradictions arise. On the one hand, more than a hundred missives give an account of his deep friendship with Montaner, author closely linked to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. On the other, his affectionate letters to Lorca and his correspondence with Cipriano Rivas Cherif, Azaña's brother-in-law, place her on the Republican side. "But he had to live in a time when you could not be neutral and had no choice but to take a stand. Do not forget that in 1931 he premiered a work by Azaña, The crown, something that did not forgive the Franco regime and condemned her to exile, "he recalls.

Throughout the letters it is observed how the political commitment of the actress is growing in spite of herself: "I am a woman of artistic struggle and not politics", she writes in 1946. It is illustrative the letter she sends to her brother on April 15 of 1931, the day after the proclamation of the Second Republic: "From five to six and a half when the Government left the balcony with the Republican flag, the waves were increasing. Many people, many priests, did not see evil in anyone, nor rancor; just great joy and in many eyes, tears. I wonder: were all these people Republican? "

Already in exile, first in Chile and Argentina and then in his final exile in Uruguay, his letters became more combative. He wrote a lot to his family, especially to his goddaughter Margarida, and always maintained the hope of returning to his country, although in the end he never did. Even so, thousands of kilometers away, he continued to contribute to the history of Spanish theater: he premiered works there forbidden by the Franco regime -Lorca, Valle, Alberti- that could not be seen in Spain until the arrival of democracy.

The memory of exile

The Epistolario Margarita Xirgu is part of an ambitious project that aims to rebuild the theatrical activity of the Republican exile. The volume brings together almost half a thousand letters written between 1909 and 1969 addressed to playwrights such as Galdós, Marquina, Lorca, Casona, Unamuno, Aub or Montaner, but also to friends and family, in which the most intimate side of the actress emerges, that over the years has been hidden by its progressive mythification. This was highlighted by an article published in the magazine First act after the death of the artist in 1969: "No one of those who have come to the theater in the last thirty years have seen Xirgu work. We do not know how it was on a stage. We have even had to ask ourselves if a considerable part of its strength would not be, precisely, its absence, its automatic and inevitable conversion into myth. "


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