Jordi, Elena (Casals i Baqué, Montserrat)


Cercs, 1882 – Barcelona, 1945


Montserrat Casals i Baqué, known under the pseudonym Elena Jordi, was an actress, theatrical businesswoman in the genre of vaudeville, and Spanish cinematic director. Her outstanding work as producer, the short film Thaïs (1918), earns her the title of first woman film director in Spain.

Jordi, Elena (Casals i Baqué, Montserrat)


Montserrat Casals i Baqué, known under the pseudonym Elena Jordi, was an actress, theatrical businesswoman in the genre of vaudeville, and Spanish cinematic director. Her outstanding work as producer, the short film Thaïs (1918), earns her the title of first woman film director in Spain.   

Born in the municipality of Cercs, in the region of Berguedà (Barcelona, Catalonia), she was the second of three daughters of the marriage between Maria Baqué and Bonaventura Casals, who worked as a foreman and later as a businessman in the local mines and cement kilns. We have little news of the family Casals i Baqué – save for the activity of Maria Baqué and her eldest daughter, Barbara in the social and cultural circles of the region – until Montserrat’s own marriage in 1901 to the veteran Josep Capallera, with whom she had two daughters, before their relationship ended in 1903. In 1905, the death of Bonaventura Casals led most of the family to establish themselves in Barcelona: Montserrat was accompanied by her mother, her little sister Tina, and her two daughters. We know that they managed a tobacconist’s on the corner of Boqueria y Rauric: a space frequented by artistic personalities such as the writers Ramon Vinyes and Pere Prat, amongst others. Some of these contacts – most notably her friendship with the scenographer Alexander Soler Marÿe (also written Marije), the son of scenographer and theatrical figurine maker Francesc Soler i Rovirosa – allowed her an introduction to the world of show business. On a personal level, this same Alexandre Soler would be a significant other to Montserrat Casals i Baqué.

It is between 1908 and 1910 – more precisely 1909, according to Barbara Zecchi – that Motserrat Casals i Baqué, who will hereafter be referred to by her artistic pseudonym of Elena Jordi, made her theatrical debut. Her first steps onto the Barcelonian stage went hand in hand with those of  the Teatro Íntimo de Adrià Gual and of the actress Margarita Xirgu, who was at the time the first actress of the Gran Teatro Español on Avenida del Paralelo in Barcelona: a place commonly considered to be the Catalonian ‘cathedral of vaudeville’. Subsequently linking herself to entities such as the Teatro Principal and the companies of Enric Borrás and Josep Santpere, Elena Jordi was carving out a reputation as a beautiful, elegant actress amongst theatre critics, achieving success with works by playwrights as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Georges Feydeau and Henry Bataille. The latter wrote the play The Nude Woman, in which Elena Jordi starred in one of the first nude theatrical roles of the Barcelona scene, leading to various disagreements about the censorship which led to the cancellation of several performances. Critical success was accompanied by renown amongst vaudeville enthusiasts, allowing her to found her own company in 1914, which would continue to put on plays by well-known national and international playwrights, from Maurice Donnay to Jordi de Peracamps (the pen-name taken by Santiago Rusiñol).

It is from 1916 that Elena Jordi made the leap to the world of cinema, without abandoning the theatre. She was probably given a leg up by fellow actor Domènec Ceret, with whom she shared billing in the Teatro Español: her first forays into the seventh art were with the company Studio Films, which was being managed by Ceret since the previous year. She worked alongside other actors in her company and with her sister Tina on some films. More specifically, Elena Jordi made her debut as a cinematic actress in the role of Lola Paris in La loca del monasterio (The Lunatic of the Monastery) (Domènec Ceret, Joan Solà y Alfred Fontanals, 1916), this being the only of Elena’s appearances on film of which there is still a record.

However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Elena Jordi is her work as a producer. She began working in the field of cinematic direction and production with the film Thaïs (1918), a short based on Jules Massenet’s opera of the same title, in which she herself starred as the protagonist. Though she was, up to this point, the first woman director in Spanish cinema, the absence of conserved reels of this film somewhat impedes our artistic consideration of her work as a director.

Also in 1918, Jordi acquired a plot of land on Vía Laietana in Barcelona, with the intention of building a theatre in her own name, a project which she ultimately did not bring to fruition. The press of the time tell of a building, whose facade was designed by Elena Jordi, in an advanced state of construction; but it was never opened as the Elena Jordi Theatre. Under different ownership, the building was opened to the public as the Pathé Palace in 1922, and rechristened as the Palacio del Cinema in 1940.

There is little news of Elena Jordi from this point onward. There are increasingly infrequent references to her theatrical performances, the last of which being in an interview conducted with Diari La Nau del Vespre dated 28th September 1929. This interview tells us something of her theatrical tastes – the finer works of vaudeville placed on a par with the more risquè – and informs us that she premiered a play in the season of 1929 in the Teatro Goya in Madrid. After this, nothing is known of her until her burial on the 6th December 1945, in the Les Corts cemetery in Barcelona.

Among other studies, notable is the research conducted by Josep Cunill, Barbara Zecchi and Irene, Irene Melé-Ballesteros, who appear in the teaser of Buscando a Thais (Searching for Thais) (David Casals-Roma): a documentary still in production.        

MAE, Óscar Palomares Navarro, 2020




CUNILL, Josep (1999). Elena Jordi. Una reina berguedana a la cort del paral.lel. Berga: Àmbit de Recerques del Berguedà.

MARTÍNEZ TEJEDOR, María Concepción (2016). Directoras pioneras del cine español. Madrid: Fundación First Team.

MELÉ-BALLESTEROS, Irene (2013). Elena Jordi y el Mito de Thais. Master Thesis, University of Massachusetts.

ZECCHI, Barbara (2013). «Dos pioneras entre el teatro y el cine: Elena Jordi y Helena Cortesina» en CAMARERO, Emma; MARCOS RAMOS, María (eds.). De los orígenes a la revolución tecnológica del siglo XXI. Salamanca: Ediciones Antema, pp. 377-388.

— (2014). La pantalla sexuada. Madrid: Cátedra; Valencia, Universitat de València.

— (2014). Desenfocadas. Cineastas españolas y discursos de género. Barcelona: Icaria.


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