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28 April 1770: 18th century stage actress Rita Luna is born in Malaga

Rita Luna, in a portrait atrributed to Francisco de Goya.
Rita Luna, in a portrait atrributed to Francisco de Goya.
  • The actress gained popularity appearing in classical comedies including works by Golden Age dramatist, Calderón de la Barca

Rita Alfonso García was born in Malaga by chance. Her parents, originally from northern Spain, were both orators, taking their recitals from stage to stage. They were living in the southern Spanish city in the spring of 1770 when Rita, one of three sisters, was born.

Given her family background it comes as no surprise that Rita also took to performing, adopting the stage name Rita Luna. She made her acting debut in 1789, at the age of 19, at a provisional theatre in Calle del Barco in Madrid. She gained popularity appearing in classical comedies including works by Golden Age dramatist, Calderón de la Barca.

The following year she was taken on by the Reales Sitios theatre company and became the second lady at the Corral del Príncipe theatre, now the Teatro Español.

She soon emerged as a rival for the then first lady of the theatres of the court of Carlos IV, María del Rosario Fernández "La Tirana", a veteran diva who became jealous of the younger woman. Rita Luna eventually took the title herself and had her portrait painted by Francisco de Goya.

Due to tension between the two women, Rita Luna moved to another popular Madrid theatre, known as the Coliseo de la Cruz, where she stayed for 16 years.

Rita abandoned her stage career in 1806 without explanation, although this came after she had suffered the rejection of playwright Leandro Fernández de Moratín who hadn't been pleased with how she played one of his characters. Her departure may also have been sparked by gossip among the actresses of the time or by mysterious and inappropriate love affairs, although speculation linked her decision to the death of a doctor she was very close to.

She retired to Real Sitio de El Pardo and distanced herself from her past stage career, devoting her time to charitable works.

During the Peninsular War, following Napoleon's invasion in 1808, she moved back to Malaga and from there to the spa at Carratraca, where she sought relief for her ailments. She moved on to Toledo, eventually returning to her Madrid home in El Pardo. She died of pneumonia in 1832.