The goal to deepen zarzuela’s universal footprint is often talked about in Spain, but rarely pursued. Sending productions abroad costs money, and money is just what Spain (and more specifically Teatro de la Zarzuela) does not have. In foreign Groves of Academe, the zarzuela beast has been but seldom sighted. It has been left to a handful of intrepid hunters to bag trophies from this deep thicket of the music-theatre wood, carrying them back to the far-flung reaches of the French, English and North American empires.
There is a bright exception to the global gloom. Several leading German-speaking scholars have fallen in love with zarzuela, and two pioneers – Professors Max Doppelbauer and Tobias Brandenberger – have put their money where their mouths are, by organising conferences (in Tübingen and Göttingen respectively) dedicated to the genre, involving scholars from outside the Spanish-speaking world, and publishing the proceedings for worldwide distribution. We recently carried a short review of the 2014 Göttingen conference, and now have the previous year’s papers to devour in book form. Göttingen’s 2013 Dimensiones y desafíos de la zarzuela (‘Dimensions and challenges…’) was a two-day Spanish-speaking forum, involving lecturers from Germany and Belgium as well as Spain. Between them they present a lively and diverse collection of ten essays which live up to the conference’s title.
I particularly warmed to Brandenberger’s own keynote lecture La zarzuela hoy – desafíos de un objeto ¿evanescente?, which offers a fresh, judicious and honest survey of zarzuela today in all its manifestations – stage, academic, media and online – without pulling its punches as to the difficulties facing the genre in the wider world. Coming from an ‘outsider’ those challenges are all the sharper observed. The essays which follow, coming from a mixture of insiders and outsiders, are a mixed bunch. Enrique Mejías García’s Cuestión de géneros – la zarzuela española frente al desafío historiográfico is the stand-out, a radical reappraisal of the ‘question of genres’ which has haunted zarzuela since the 1850’s. He argues that the Naming of Things is largely responsible for zarzuela’s mixed press right down to the present, quoting some astoundingly prejudiced, recent reviews from the periodical La Razón. He traces this intellectual minimisation back to those 19th century writers who saw zarzuela as a mere stepping stone towards the creation of a national opera, and proposes a breakdown of the traditional descriptions of zarzuela’s sub-genres in favour of a model based on historical periods, to better reflect its manifest range and complexity. Stimulating stuff indeed, raising as many questions as it answers.
There is an illuminating paper from Mario Lerena on the (politically as much as aesthetically inspired) attempt to institute the genre as Spain’s ‘national lyric theatre’ from the mid-1920’s onwards, and an entertaining one from Ignacio Jassa Haro on the iconic implications of photography associated with zarzuela. José Manuel Pedrosa gives us an amusing example of how fictional myths and reality can mirror one another, in his article on Barbieri’s Los dos ciegos of 1855; while Álvaro Ceballos Viro presents a most elegantly turned, pure philological study of Ramos Carrión and Caballero’s El siglo que viene (1876) without mentioning the musical score. Judging from the overall quality here, the value of Göttingen’s international initiatives is proven. I hope that their 2013 and 2014 symposia will spawn equally hearty, international successors.
© Christopher Webber 2015