Though precise circumstances vary, most operas evolve in pretty much the same way: A libretto is written, and the composer then sets those words to music. But in at least one instance, things happened the other way around.
In 1911, the Spanish composer Enrique Granados completed what went on to become his most famous, and popular composition: a six-movement suite for solo piano called "Goyescas." For his inspiration, Granados turned to Spanish art from a century or so earlier, the Romantic paintings of Francisco Goya.
The suite quickly became popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and the pianist who gave the work's American premiere, Ernest Schelling, was so taken with its music that he went to Granados with an unusual suggestion. Why not, Schelling said, take the Suite's evocative music and use it in an opera?
Granados did exactly that, and the result was an opera created in a way that seems, well, backward. Granados first composed a three-scene score based on the piano suite. Only then were words fitted to the music's melodies, by librettist Fernando Periquet.
The world premiere of Goyescas took place in 1916 at New York's Metropolitan Opera, and the success of that event led indirectly to the composer's death. Shortly afterward, President Woodrow Wilson invited Granados to perform at the White House. Granados accepted, and accordingly delayed his voyage back to Europe. On the eventual journey home, Granados and his wife were both lost at sea in the English Channel, when their ship was torpedoed by a German submarine.
Goyescas is heard on World of Opera in a colorful double bill, paired with Suor Angelica, the middle drama from Puccini's well-kown triptych of one-act operas, Il Trittico. Suor Angelica is surely the most spiritual of all Puccini's operas, which makes it a distinct contrast to the triptych's other two dramas: the violent, verismo potboiler Il Tabarro and the black comedy Gianni Schicchi.
Puccini began Suor Angelica at about the same time Granados was preparing for the premiere of Goyescas, in 1916. Suor Angelica waited until 1918 for its first performance, though both dramas were premiered at the same opera house, the Metropolitan in New York.
World of Opera host Lisa Simeone presents the double bill from the Teatrio Regio -- the Royal Theater -- in Turin, Italy. Soprano Giuseppina Piunti and tenor Andeka Gorrotxategui feature in Goyescas, with soprano Amarilli Nizza in the title role of Suor Angelica.