Ángel de Saavedra was a prolific writer as well as an influential politician. Better known as the duke of Rivas to critics and the public, his literary production, especially the drama Don Álvaro, has been described alternatively as the best of Spanish Romanticism, by his friend and colleague Antonio Alcalá Galiano, and as a play whose main value lies in its intense theatricality, by the drama critic and historian Francisco Ruiz Ramón. In truth, Saavedra’s literary career reflects the trajectory of literary tastes and fashions in Spain during the nineteenth century. He began in the waning neoclassical style, already tinted with elements of Romanticism; his early tragedies incorporate the themes of liberty, resistance to tyranny, political reform, and individual freedom that were prevalent in the literary and political milieu of mid-nineteenth century Spain.
The production of Don Álvaro in Madrid in 1835 was the event that signaled the dominance of Romanticism in Spain. Building on the work of his predecessors, Francisco Martínez de la Rosa and Mariano José de Larra, Saavedra added to his drama the influence of other European Romantics whose work he read while in exile in France and England. Don Álvaro is, then, the ultimate Romantic drama with the ultimate Romantic hero, the one who captured the imagination of the times, transcending frontiers and genre. His play was the base for numerous imitations in Europe and for the well-known opera by Giuseppe Verdi, La forza del destino.
Saavedra’s achievements in the theater were not limited to his success with Don Álvaro. His work was generally popular among the public, and another major drama, El desengaño en un sueño, signaled the consolidation within the theater of the trend already started by Saavedra himself in two major works of narrative poetry, the Romances históricos (1841) and the Leyendas (1854), which shifted the character of Spanish Romanticism from the liberal European to the national conservative.
Lovett, Gabriel. The Duke of Rivas. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A basic look at the life and works of Saavedra, the duke of Rivas. Includes bibliography.
Peers, E. Allison. A Short History of the Romantic Movement in Spain. 1949. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1976. This reprint of the 1949 edition published by the Institute of Hispanic Studies in Liverpool, England, presents a look at Romanticism in Spain, touching on Saavedra. Bibliography and index.
Schurlknight, Donald E. Spanish Romanticism in Context: Of Subversion, Contradiction, and Politics: Espronceda, Larra, Rivas, Zorrilla. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998. Schurlknight examines Spanish Romanticism through the works of Saavedra (the duke of Rivas), José de Espronceda, Mariano José de Larra, and José Zorrilla. Bibliography and index.