Summary and libretto
La cabeza del Bautista, by Enric Palomar, is an opera in one act divided into eight scenes. It is based on Carlos Wagner's adaptation of the «melodrama for puppets» of the same title by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán. The opera will receive its first performance at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona on 20 April 2009 with Carlos Wagner himself as stage director and Josep Caballé on the podium. Aside from the omission of a few minor details, the plot closely follows that of the play, which is part of Retablo de la avaricia, la lujuria y la muerte. Several popular songs that are merely outlined in the theatrical version are sung by the group of roving singers mentioned by the playwright, a mixed chorus of bar patrons, and a Blind Man and his Boy, who are borrowed from El embrujado, another play from Retablo de la avaricia, la lujuria y la muerte. The introduction is based on Valle-Inclán's poem Rosa de llamas.
A choral piece provides a sort of overture foreshadowing the gruesome tragedy that is to be unleashed by the victim's yearning for revenge and money.
The setting is El Indiano Gachupín−the bar and billiard room owned by Don Igi, whose nickname evokes the fact that he made his fortune in Latin America. It is a starry− night and the customers are playing billiards while a group of young men tune their guitars and rehearse the songs they are to sing while touring the streets.
A blind beggar, El Ciego de Gondar, whom everyone in the bar considers wicked and unscrupulous, comes in. He sings a ballad, «En Quintán de Castro Lés», echoed by the Boy who is his guide and companion. Despite Don Igi's rebukes, he then launches into a chant, answered this time by the chorus, about the misfortunes of the utterly destitute, which also contains predictions about future events. He is ejected by Don Igi, his mistress La Pepona, and the customers.
A well-built young man known as El Jándalo arrives on horseback. He says his name is Alberto Saco and he is a foreigner who has travelled all over America. He asks to speak to Don Igi, with whom he has an account to settle, and makes advances to La Pepona while the customers make ironical remarks. Initially Don Igi takes on a brash, self-confident air. But then he begins to display the fear and anguish that mark the beginning of his steady drift into insanity. El Jándalo tells him he has come to demand money, and that if he does not obtain it he is in a position, now that he has been released from prison, to disclose the circumstances of their relationship. He jokes about La Pepona's charms and offers a round of drinks. Then he and the other customers make a noisy departure, singing a mazurka.
Don Igi remains alone with La Pepona. Terrified by the stranger's unexpected arrival, he tells her about a terrible episode from his past: the murder of Baldomerita, his first wife. He denies his own guilt and claims she was killed by El Jándalo, her son by a former marriage, ''for the inheritance''. According to this self-serving account, El Jándalo was a bad son and his mother hated him. On discovering that his stepfather had mortgaged her property to obtain more income, El Jándalo denounced him as the murderer to the Mexican judges, who are always hostile towards wealthy Spaniards. Don Igi was found guilty, sent to prison, and had to sell up his business in Toluca.
Don Igi feels old and frightened and is prepared to pay up to save his reputation in the village, but La Pepona reacts decisively: she refuses to let him sacrifice a single penny and plies him with drink to bolster his courage and make him forget his deceased wife, whose expression El Jándalo has inherited. The young man has already made a pass at as he did−her; she suggests that while she leads him on, Don Igi can kill him by stabbing him in the back. Don Igi is pleased at the idea and−Baldomerita enjoys the feeling of boldness La Pepona arouses in him. He decides to carry out the plan and bury El Jándalo under the lemon trees.
In the silence of the night the sound of La Pepona digging El Jándalo's grave can be heard. Outside the chorus is singing a ballad full of foreboding while the band of roving singers, among whom is El Jándalo, draws near. La Pepona appears in the doorway armed with a mattock. Don Igi raises his finger to his lips to tell her to be quiet and the drunken young men resume their singing. La Pepona reminds him to have his dagger ready.
La Pepona makes provocative gestures to El Jándalo in the moonlight and he approaches lasciviously. Don Igi looks on in dismay as they talk. La Pepona remains self-assured and in control of the situation, but also glad to be an object of desire. She tells El Jándalo to come back when everyone has left.
Don Igi is jealous of the amorous intrigue between La Pepona and El Jándalo. But La Pepona's plan is clear: she will lure him inside that very night, Don Igi must feign ignorance and do nothing until it is time to plunge the dagger hidden up his sleeve into the young man's back.
When El Jándalo returns, Don Igi offers him a drink. To his irritation, El Jándalo continues to make up to La Pepona. He also returns to the topic of money: he wants three thousand pesos and intends to take La Pepona away with him. El Jándalo enfolds La Pepona in a passionate embrace and she responds. But at the same time she points towards his back as a signal to Don Igi. Then she swoons in El Jándalo's arms and, once he is dead, keeps her mouth pressed against his as it grows cold.
She sings a passionately sensual song to his corpse, calling him «Flor de mozo» (splendid young man) and begging Kiss me again, mouth of−for more kisses («¡Bésame otra vez, boca de piedra!» stone!). She expresses deep remorse over his murder and totally ignores Don Igi, who looks on, dumbfounded. Suddenly the chorus is heard singing a song about bells tolling the knell. Don Igi reminds her they must finish digging the grave and burn the dead man's clothes but La Pepona goes on kissing El Jándalo. filthy−Finally, appalled by her behaviour, her insults her («Vil ramera» bitch) and vows he wishes he had allowed himself to be blackmailed.