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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Simón Bolívar (chamber version) (2013)
Work Notes
A chamber opera in two acts arranged by the composer from the full length opera Simón Bolívar
Text Writer
Thea Musgrave (trans. Lillian Garrett-Groag)
Novello & Co Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 45 Minutes
English, Spanish
4 principals (Soprano, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone)
Solo Instrument(s)
2 comprimarii (tenor, baritone); 5 bit parts & supers
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Simón Bolívar (chamber version) (2013)
This work is a chamber music version of the full scale opera Simón Bolívar, which was given its world premiere by the Virginia Opera in 1995. The German premiere followed very shortly after.

An orchestral version of excerpts from the opera was made for a BBC Promenade performance in the summer of 1995. Originally entitled Suite from Simón Bolívar, now retitled Remembering Bolívar.

As in the full scale opera, this chamber music version tells the story of the important Venezuelan hero, who, not only liberated six South American countries from Spanish colonial rule, but also pursued his further ideal of their political unification under one flag. Against the tumultuous forces of the period's struggles, Bolívar emerges as a passionate idealist, brilliantly successful as a liberator ("El Libertador"), yet unable to achieve his dream of South American unity. The formation of those ideals, his personal charisma and passions, and his inability to compromise are all part of a historic story which resonates with renewed meaning in today's world.

Each generation needs its heroes: those people who can conceive of a new world and who also have the charisma, commitment and skill to bring it to reality. Thus Bolívar. Though in his own eyes he was not successful ("those who serve a revolution only plough the sea"), for us he is a source of insight and understanding of the difficulties of achieving the goals he aspired to. No struggle of this nature is in vain: we find renewal of his spirit in a few rare and wonderful people of our own time.

The libretto is based on historical events and the writings of Simón Bolívar.



Bolívar, "El Libertador" (born Caracas, July 24, 1783) - Tenor

José‚ Antonio Páez, (born Barinas, Venezuela, 1792), General in Bolívar's Army of Liberation. - Bass-Baritone

Francisco de Paula Santander, (born Acarigua, Colombia, 1792), General in Bolívar's Army of Liberation. - Baritone

Manuela Sáenz de Thorne, (born Quito, Ecuador, 1797), Bolívar's mistress. - Soprano


Antonio José‚ Sucre, (born Cumaná, Venezuela, 1795), General in Bolívar's Army of Liberation. - Tenor

Rodríguez, doubling Night Watchman (El Sereno), and Daniel O’Leary, (an Irish officer in Bolívar’s army) - Baritone


Jose (“Pepe”) Palacios, (son of Hipólita, Bolívar’s valet):
Hipólita, (nanny to the young Bolívar):
Jonatás, (Manuela's black servant):
Pedro, (a captain in Bolívar’s army):
Pablo, (another soldier, later Aide to Santander):
2 Police Sergeants: Dancers (for the Soirée): 3/4 children: Soldiers etc.


BOLÍVAR, an aristocrat; charismatic, romantic, idealistic, trusting, cultured, imaginative, also a daring and brilliant soldier. An impatient genius concerned with honour. Generous but not humble. Intelligent and pleasure-loving. Not patient enough to be an administrator. Swift. A man of action.
PAEZ, a guerrilla; peasant, unruly, suspicious, brave, impossible to control, quick-tempered, rash.
SANTANDER, a lawyer; an administrator who believed in "rules", law and order; rigid, always "correct", very intelligent, ambitious, jealous, cruel, cold, ascetic, cautious and legal-minded. Methodical. No sense of humour.
SUCRE, young, a brilliant soldier, hero-worshipped Bolívar.
RODRIGUEZ, intellectual, visionary, understood politics and people, an inspiring teacher, dreamed dreams, unpredictable. Original. Imaginative.
MANUELA, beautiful, intelligent, spirited, warm, unconventional, passionate.


The story of Bolívar is a heroic one, full of splendor and sacrifice. But it is also a story that has great meaning for us today as it speaks of the eternal struggle against tyrannical domination.

Who was this man, so revered by his people, that they still call him “el Libertador”? The opera reveals to us his essence: we see him as a young boy, as a soldier, a leader, a lover and, finally as a dying man, poverty-stricken and abandoned. In one crucial scene we see General Santander denying Bolívar’s vision of a united South America and transforming himself from a soldier into the grandeur of Vice-President (of Columbia). The stage is thus set for the battle between the idealistic soldier-hero and the power-hungry bureaucrat. The opera ends in the present time with a young boy admiring a statue of Bolívar on horseback…perhaps he is a nascent Bolívar prepared to continue this eternal battle.


Scene One: May 1819. Setenta, on the banks of the Apure river in the remote interior of Venezuela.
In the midst of battle, Bolívar recalls a scene from his childhood. He recalls how Rodríguez, his tutor, explained the concept of the rights of man as implemented in the contemporary French Revolution. How the Royalist police accused him of subversive activities, and how he was brutally roughed up and led away. We see how the young Simón experienced at first hand the cruelty of those in control.

Further sounds of battle bring Bolívar back to the “reality” of the present. The struggle has been long and violent with much loss of life. The dream of liberation seems without hope. Soldiers are threatening to lay down their arms and return home. Páez enters with his llaneros and is about to shoot one such cowardly soldier. Bolívar prevents Páez from this act of violence, but insists that the fight for freedom must never be abandoned.

Bolívar then proposes a desperate solution: to cross the treacherous high cordillera thus eluding the Spanish forces, and unite with General Santander and the patriots in neighboring New Granada. Together the two armies will liberate Bogotá and later Caracas.

Bolívar’s conviction and charisma eventually convince his Generals to respond to his leadership. They all declare themselves ready to follow him. Bolívar instructs Páez to remain behind as rearguard, but reminds him that they will soon join together again when Caracas is liberated.

Scene Two: June 1819. A high pass in the Andes
The excitement of the previous scene suddenly gives way to the cold reality of the dangerous high cordillera. Santander with some of his men await the arrival of Bolívar and the Venezuelan army. Meanwhile Santander contemplates Simón Bolívar: what kind of man is this that would dare to bring an army across the impenetrable cordillera. Was it a mistake to trust him?

They are about to give up all hope when at long last Bolívar and his patriots arrive. The journey has been a disaster. Their condition is catastrophic. All begin to question the chances of success. Suddenly following the lead of a Granadan soldier, the others all move towards the exhausted Venezuelans in an impassioned moment of brotherhood. Extremely moved Bolívar recalls the tricolored flag that inspired the brotherhood of man. He fashions a new flag for a new united republic, Gran Colombia. “Golden for America, red for the tyranny of Spain and this blue for the wide ocean that lies between the two worlds”.

Even the proud Santander recognizes Bolívar’s charisma. All feel a resurgence of life and hope for the brave new world. Just as the two armies come together, so do the two men.

Scene Three: August 1819. Boyacá, in the mountains above Bogotá.
The Spanish have indeed been taken by surprise and are routed at the battle of Boyacá. All now recognize and acclaim Bolívar as their liberator. A carousal now begins as Bolívar toasts the victory. Tonight they will celebrate, tomorrow the road to Bogotá lies open.

During the festivities (which include a traditional ‘Galeron’ and a ‘Corrido’) Bolívar tells Santander of his dream: not only to liberate the whole Spanish world but also to unify all countries under a single federal government. He overrides Santander’s serious questions and doubts, adding that whenever he, Bolívar, is absent on military campaigns, Santander shall remain in Bogotá and take political control. Santander, the man of laws, is won over by the argument that he is really needed at home, while Bolívar the man of action, must continue the fight. With excitement Santander realizes the enormous potential of this promise, while Bolívar rejoices that with Santander his dreams of unity and political organization begin to have some reality.

Scene Four: 1822. The study of the vice-president in Bogotá
Several years have passed and Santander is Vice President of the new republic of Gran Colombia. He is swamped with the interminable struggle to keep the new nation afloat.

A dispatch from Bolívar (now in Quito) requests Santander’s support to get money from Congress to continue the sweep of liberation into Perú. However the unification of the liberated countries has created many serious problems both financial and political as he, Santander, has predicted. Santander therefore withholds permission for Bolívar to leave for Perú and writes that Bolívar must return to the capital immediately.

Scene Five: 1822. A Soirée in Quito.
A ball is being given to celebrate the liberation of Quito, and its liberator, Bolívar. The dances include a ‘Trinitaria’, a favourite contredanse of Bolívar that was discovered in his papers after his death; ‘La Vencedora’, actually composed for Bolívar’s triumphal entry into Bogotá; an original Pavane; and later in the scene there is the ‘Tirana’, a Spanish 18th century dance. All these dances are set against ongoing dramatic action. Thus when the dispatch from Santander arrives denying Bolívar permission to leave for Perú, Bolívar’s furious outburst interrupts the dancing. Bolívar firmly believes that Perú is the last stronghold of the Spanish, and they must be decisively thrown out of Perú and indeed all of South America, or the newly liberated countries would always be under threat of attack.

During this interchange Manuela (beautiful, spirited and unconventional) arrives and immediately attracts Bolívar’s attention. This scene shows the beginning of their passionate relationship… a scandal, since she is already married.

Scene Six: Moments later. Bolívar’s private quarters.
Manuela is led by O’Leary to Bolívar. Bolívar declares his love and the scene ends in a passionate duet.

Scene Seven: December 1824. Bolívar’s study in Lima, Perú.
Bolívar, accompanied by Manuela, has arrived in Lima, Perú. A letter arrives from Santander requesting his immediate return north. Bolívar, always impatient with the minutiae of domestic politics, considers his presence in Perú more important than a journey north to appease the political differences between Santander and Páez.

Manuela immediately understands the potential danger of Bolívar’s decision. She pleads with him to return north to “put his house in order.”

O’Leary arrives with the news of General Sucre’s victory at the battle of Ayacucho in upper Perú. Now all of Spanish America is free from Spanish imperialism. Bolívar is exultant – this victory is the culmination of his great dream of liberation.

Bolívar bids Manuela a passionate farewell and departs to rejoin his army.

The scene opens out into a large ensemble: on the one side Bolívar, Sucre and O’Leary celebrate their liberation from Spain: on other parts of the stage we see Santander’s furious reaction to the news that Bolívar will remain in Peru and Manuela’s premonition of the danger that threatens Bolívar.


Scene Eight: 1826. A square in Caracas.
Bolívar has at long last returned home. He is appalled at the poverty and the devastation.

Páez enters and Bolívar challenges him about the disastrous conditions in Venezuela. He orders Páez to go to Bogotá to answer charges about this and other matters. Páez defiantly refuses. He declares he would rather secede from the union and that his llaneros stand behind him. He refuses to listen to Bolívar’s pleas for the countries to remain united. His loyalty is to Bolívar alone, no one else. Unity with a hostile and distant Congress means nothing to him.

Alone, Bolívar experiences an agonizing moment of confusion and doubt. He feels trapped in a labyrinth, for whatever decision he makes will be disastrous. If he tries to force Páez to accompany him to Bogotá, there is serious threat of a civil war, and if he does not, the news of Páez’ insubordination will certainly have very serious consequences.

Bolívar stumbles and falls unconscious….the first signs of his debilitating illness.

Scene Nine: 1826. Manuela’s boudoir in Lima.
Manuela has received a letter from Bolívar pleading for her to come to him. Though she knows Bolívar is dying, she decides to leave her husband for good, and rejoin Bolívar even for the short time that is left. She makes this tragic decision knowing that when Bolívar is gone she will be quite alone and without protection.

Scene Ten: 1827. Office of the President in Bogotá.
Bolívar on his return to Bogotá is greeted cordially by Santander. Then he learns that Bolívar has not only failed to bring Páez back with him to face charges before the Colombian Congress, but also in a last ditch attempt to preserve the unity of Gran Colombia, Bolívar has announced his support of Páez. Santander is outraged, he declares he will challenge Bolívar publicly.

Bolívar defends his action and furiously accuses Santander of personal ambition.

Bolívar announces that, faced by the intransigence of antander, he will be forced to abolish the office of the Vice Presidency and that he, Bolívar, will assume full dictatorial powers.

Santander swears to overthrow the new tyrant. By declaring himself dictator, Bolívar has violated the constitution.

Scene Eleven: September 26th, 1828. A hacienda near Bogotá.
Offstage we hear the sereno (the night watchman) calling out the hour and that all is well. Bolívar now very ill, is tended by Manuela.

As Manuela sings, we hear distant offstage shouts. “Death to the tyrant Bolívar! Death to the dictator!” Loud knocking on the outer door. Bolívar grabs his sword and staggers to the door ready to attack. Manuela pulls Bolívar away from the door. With Palacios’ help she spirits him out of the window and remains behind to be severely beaten by the conspirators.

Scene Twelve: December 17th, 1830. A humble house in the coastal city of Santa Maria.
Bolívar in emotionally broken phrases recognizes the failure of his dreams. He is alone, in poverty and in exile. He is separated from Manuela. His one true friend, Sucre, has been assassinated.

America is uncontrollable;
And those who serve a revolution
plough the sea.

La América es ingobernable para nosotros
y el que sirve una revolución
ara en el mar.
Then with his last strength, Bolívar dictates a letter to his people. With nobility and dignity he pleads that they should never forget the vision of freedom from tyranny, and that they should always be ready to fight for the ideals of unity and justice that were the foundation of the War of Liberation. The words of this famous letter are spoken and they not only softly underlie the succeeding scene, thus linking the action to the final coda, these words are also echoed by a contemporary Rodríguez teaching some children about the great vision of their liberator.

Scene Thirteen: 1842. Manuela’s home in exile in the small coastal village of Paita, Perú.
Manuela recall Bolívar’s dreams – those that were realized and those that were never fulfilled.

Coda: A square of a Latin American capital. The twentieth century.
A contemporary Rodríguez enters with some children including a contemporary young Bolívar. At that moment the Spirit of Bolívar appears and ‘unseen’ walks slowly across the stage.

Freedom: the fierce unending battle
against tyranny,
against anarchy.
Freedom: demands
your heart, your mind,
your imagination,
and even your very life.
That is the heavy price
for one brief moment of glory.

La libertad: tenaz batalla
contra la tiranía,
contra la anarquía.
La libertad se paga
con el corazón, con el espíritu,
con la imaginación,
con la vida misma.
Ese es el duro precio
de un breve momento de gloria,

As the lights gradually fade and the spirit of Bolívar merges with his statue, Rodríguez disappears and the children follow him in pursuit. The stage is left empty except for the young contemporary Bolívar who stands gazing up at the statue as the curtain falls.

Simón Bolívar is ....Thea Musgrave's strongest work...this historical fantasy not only shows her to be an accomplished musical dramatist...but demonstrates that she now knows how to shape a libretto with sureness and power....a fine piece of theater...In short, there's meat on the bones of this opera. — Patrick J. Smith, Opera News
Patrick J. Smith, Opera News,01/01/0001
Cascades of battle cries alternate with the lyricism of elegiac love scenes and the tension of the characters' verbal duels. [Musgrave's] original style remains dynamic and saturates each phrase.
Walter Freitag, Bayerische Staatszeitung,01/01/0001
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