Modern Catalan theatre commenced with Serafí Pitarra and continued with authors like the romantic Àngel Guimerà, the naturalist Ignasi Iglésias, Santiago Rusiñol, who cultivated symbolist theatre, and Joan Puig Ferreter. Later on, the bourgeoisie comedies of Carles Soldevila arrived, as did the poetical dramas of Josep Maria de Sagarra, the ‘Antígona’ [Antigone] by Salvador Espriu and the stage poetry of Joan Brossa. From the 1960’s onwards a new generation of playwrights appeared, with names like Josep Maria Benet Jornet and Jordi Teixidor. In the 1980’s, with Sergi Belbel, a new period commenced in which they dealt with contemporary themes and reflected upon the preoccupations of the individual.
After the second half of the nineteenth century, with the ‘Renaixença’ movement, Catalan theatre experienced a notable revival, as did other literary genres. Amongst the most highlighted playwrights, we find Frederic Soler, known by his pen name ‘Serafí Pitarra’, who is considered to be the founder of modern Catalan theatre. He wrote both parodies – ‘L’esquella de la torratxa’ [The bell of the tower] (1864) and ‘El castell dels Tres Dragons’ [The castle of the Three Dragons] (1865) – and bourgeoisie dramas – ‘Les joies de la Roser’ [Roser’s jewels] (1866) – and completely romantic pieces – ‘La dida’ [The Wet-nurse] (1872) and ‘El ferrer de tall’ [The cutting blacksmith] (1874). Pitarra moved the colloquial language and popular themes to his texts and, with Àngel Guimerà, is one of the best exponents of romanticism.
In his works Guimerà crossed linguistic frontiers. In his theatrical pieces we find problems often tied to the social context and which approach human conflicts and from which there derives a conservative vision of reality. ‘Mar i cel’ [Sea and sky] (1888), ‘Maria Rosa’ (1894) and ‘Terra baixa’ [Low lands] (1897) are examples, amongst many others, of pieces which gained large audience successes and which have become classics.
In the Valencian region, Eduard Escalante had a lot of popular success with pieces like ‘Bufar en caldo gelat’ [Blow on cold broth] (1869), ‘La xala’ [The party] (1871) and ‘La Patti de Peixcaors’ (1884) and created a trend which many later playwrights have followed. These are pieces of large comedic strength which have emerged from the Valencian artisan barrios, as can be seen in the colloquial dialogues, of great documental value.
The modernists were the great introducers of the European theatrical tendencies onto the Catalan stages. Therefore, Ignasi Iglésias, who was influenced by Ibsen and Maeterlinck and Hauptmann, wrote naturalist dramas which were very rooted in the working-class movements, like ‘El cor del poble’ [The heart of people] (1902), ‘Els vells’ [Old men] (1903) and ‘Les garses’ [The herons] (1905). Santiago Rusiñol, who approached the bourgeoisie drama from the hypothesis of art for art, cultivated symbolist theatre in works like ‘L’alegria que passa’ [Happiness that goes] (1891) and ‘El jardí abandonat’ [The abandoned garden] (1900), and the poising of collective conflicts in ‘L’heroi’ [The hero] (1903). The theatrical production of Adrià Gual is also framed in the theories of art for art and, furthermore, various artistic manifestations converge in it, as we see in ‘Nocturn’ [Nocturne] (1896). We must also point out ‘Misteri de dolor’ [Mystery of pain] (1904) with which he had a lot of success. Joan Puig Ferreter, who was influenced by Ibsen and Chekov, triumphed with ‘Aigües encantades’ [Enchanted waters] (1908) and ‘La dama enamorada’ [The maiden in love] (1908), where passions are mixed with collective conflicts. Juli Vallmitjana portrayed the low Barcelonan depths in his works and the customs and language of the gypsies in ‘Els zin-calós’ [The gipsies] (1911), ‘Cants d’orient’ [Chants of orient] (1923) and ‘La caravana perduda’ [The lost caravan] (1929).