The bell ring announcing the start of Thursday’s session in Congress was followed by another very different sound. It was the sound of violins, violas, cellos, a harpsichord and a double bass belonging to the La Spagna orchestra, which played fragments from Georg Philipp Telemann’s Suite Burlesque de Quixotte.
Actors and musicians filled the Spanish Congress to observe the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. The actor Manuel Tallafé, dressed as the writer himself, took over the house speaker’s seat to address the chamber.
For once, every seat in the house was full – even those assigned to the acting government of the Popular Party, whose members have been conspicuously absent during question times these last few months. There was one notable absence, that of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez arrived a few minutes late, and shared a row with Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera.
The actors took the opportunity to pepper their rhetoric with satirical criticism aimed straight at the politicians sitting in the room. Cervantes-Tafallé even joked with the idea of registering his new novel Don Quixote in Panama. The theatre company Ron Lalá ended the special event with a line from its touring show, Cervantina, which resonated in a chamber where politicians have been unable to form a new government four months after Spaniards went to the polls: “España está agonizante, España se va al abismo. Todo el mundo lee a Cervantes para pensar por sí mismo.” (Spain is agonising, Spain is headed for the abyss. Everyone is reading Cervantes in order to think for themselves).
On Thursday, a new documentary about Cervantes was presented at the Spanish Film Academy coinciding with the anniversary of the author’s death 400 years ago. The film follows the efforts to locate and identify the remains that were found recently at a former convent in downtown Madrid, where Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was buried unceremoniously after dying poor. Cervantes, la búsqueda (or, Cervantes, the search) illustrates the search that was carried out by scientists and historians at the Convento de las Trinitarias. “The idea emerged from the need to reflect all the research, effort and work of a group of scientists,” said film director Javier Balaguer.