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Joaquín Nin-Culmell's La Celestina: Opera, Identity, and Subversion

  • Author(s): Johns, Eric Robert
  • Advisor(s): Saavedra, Leonora
  • et al.
Abstract

Joaquín Nin-Culmell’s opera La Celestina was to be his magnum opus, the work that would bring him out of the shadows of his father, the composer Joaquín Nin, and his sister, the diarist Anaïs Nin. This would require a work that would express his identity as himself, as opposed to in relation to his family. In Joaquin Nin-Culmell’s La Celestina: Opera, Identity and Subversio,n I explore the history of the opera, as well as the work as an expression of both Spanish national identity and Nin-Culmell’s open-secret homosexuality.

Despite his German birth, and both U.S.-American and Cuban citizenships, Joaquín Nin-Culmell (1908-2004) is often considered a Spanish. The negotiation of this multi-national identity is further complicated by the construction of a Spanish national identity during the Franco regime (1939-1975). By choosing to adapt the medieval work La Celestina into an opera, Nin-Culmell embraced his Spanish identity while simultaneously rejecting the Francoist construction of a moral, unified, and Catholic Spain. The adaptation of this subversive, heretical, nihilistic, yet quintessential work of the Spanish canon questions both the state-proposed concept of Spain, as well as Nin-Culmell’s personal identity. As a devout Catholic, Nin-Culmell carefully removed much of the heretical content, seemingly playing into the post-Civil War Spanish construction of nationhood; however, I posit that the continued inclusion of the original’s converso narrative, that it reflects a crypto-Jewish perspective, reveals the inner workings of an equally subversive political work. Indeed, the seamless adaptation and inclusion of villancicos and Spanish folk songs into his opera emphasizes a regionalismo that counters the hegemonic Francoist narrative of a unified Spain. Though the work was never performed during the Franco regime, nor during Nin-Culmell’s life time, it exemplifies Nin-Culmell’s construction of Spanish identity, embracing a pluralistic Spain of multivalent national identities.

The subversive commentaries that permeate Rojas’ La Celestina also function as a reflection of Nin-Culmell’s open-secret homosexuality. After having already completed the opera twice before, Nin-Culmell began composition a third time in 1989 after the death of his life partner, Theodore Reid. Here the subversion of the work both highlights and obscures Nin-Culmell’s experiences as a homosexual in the United States through the use of metaphor and allegory. By understanding aspects of Nin-Culmell’s personal life we are able to view the opera through a hermeneutic lens exposing and transforming covert messages.

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