MOSCOW – A cache of lost photographs and other documents that were found in Moscow have provided invaluable testimony of a puppet theater company that entertained Republican soldiers at the front lines of Spain’s brutal Civil War.
“La Tarumba” was a troupe created in 1934 by the painter and director Miguel Prieto under the auspices of such legendary Spanish-language poets as Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda or Rafael Alberti, who belonged to the influential literary and intellectual movement known as the Generation of ’27.
Nina Monova, a researcher delving into the archives of Moscow’s Obraztsov Puppet Theater, by chance stumbled upon 37 forgotten photos that feature several scenes of puppet shows delighting audiences at the trenches and field hospitals during the war that ravaged Spain between 1936-39 after a military uprising led by Gen. Francisco Franco, who triggered the war and went on to rule the country with an iron fist for the four decades following his rebel forces’ victory in the fratricidal struggle against the democratically-elected Republican government.
“I opened several folders related to the staging of the great Garcia Lorca’s ‘The Puppet Play of Don Cristobal’ when I saw some photographs and decided to find out what they were, because they were clearly different,” Monrova said during a roundtable on the discovery held at Moscow’s Cervantes Institute.
Months of research by Spanish and Russian experts led to the conclusion that the images had been previously unknown and gave priceless testament to the pivotal role played by cultural events – supervised by the Spanish Republic’s sub-commissariat for propaganda – such as theater during the war.
Monrova also found three scripts, a program and reviews of La Tarumba’s greatest hits.
The scripts were of the aforementioned “Puppet Play of Don Cristobal,” “The saviors of Spain” by Alberti and of “The Defense of Madrid and the Bullfight of Mola,” written by Prieto and his partner, the poet Luis Perez Infante.
La Tarumba would travel to the front and rear of the Republican-held territory to provide them with a much-needed distraction from the horrors of the war, but also to spread some essential agitprop.
For example, the cover of “The Defense of Madrid and the Bullfight of Mola” shows Franco observing through his tactical binoculars a bullfighting ring in which general Emilio Mola – the bloodthirsty commander of the fascist troops in northern Spain – appears garbed in a bull costume being teased by a Republican militia member.
These documents were apparently handed as a gift by Prieto to legendary Russian puppeteer Sergey Obraztsov when the former headed an official Spanish delegation to the Soviet Union in Sept. 1937 to visit the V Moscow Theater Festival.
But it was Obraztsov’s protege and co-worker, Andrey Fedotov, who compiled all the material within the folder discovered 80 years later by Monrova.
She explained that the fact that these historical nuggets survived to this day constituted a true miracle, since the Obraztsov Puppet Theater was bombed during World War II and most of its pre-war archives were destroyed.