bleu nuit éditeur

La Zarzuela Baroque (Serna)

La Zarzuela

Pierre-René Serna

Collection horizons, bleu nuit éditeur, 2020 (176pp, 20€)

ISBN 978-2-35884-086-6

Anyone who warmed to Pierre-René Serna’s sparky, personal Guide de la Zarzuela (2012, and deserving winner of a Prix du Syndicat de la Critique the following year) will be delighted to discover this sequel, devoted to zarzuela barroca. Although that first book did devote space to one or two major milestones of baroque zarzuela, Serna – like many writers on zarzuela, the present reviewer included – evidently felt that he had not done anything like justice to the complex history and artistic riches of the two hundred year period before Barbieri’s Jugar con fuego came along in 1851.

Although we are blessed with excellent, full-length academic studies on 17th century zarzuela (Louise K. Stein’s invaluable Songs of Mortals, Dialogues of Gods…) and late-18th century tonadilla (Elizabeth Leguin’s recent The Tonadilla in Performance) this new guide is the first, handy overview devoted to the whole period from the birth of zarzuela, more or less up until its renaissance under Barbieri and Friends. It is clearly and logically organised into a series of short, chronological narratives, each followed by focused sections on significant works by the most important composers. Serna makes sure to write – lightly, fluently and stylishly – with the general reader in mind, bringing in details of CD or DVD recordings where they exist and bewailing the lack where they don’t.

Crucial works by the composers Juan Hidalgo, Sebastian Durón, Antonio Literes, José de Nebra and (perhaps most valuably) the neglected Rodríguez de Hita, are granted stimulating synoptic and musical analysis, with a lavish numbers of music examples as well as evocative graphic illustrations. The writers, with the natural exceptions of Pedro Calderón de la Barca – the founder of the feast – and Ramón de la Cruz, are given shorter shrift; though we are given the complete text of El laurel de Apollo, with Norbert Molina’s French translation, as one of several generous appendices.

P-R SernaSerna wisely doesn’t attempt to draw too firm a line between zarzuela and opera, which allows him to include analyses of such important scores as La purpura de la rosa (in its 1701, Lima version) and Celos aun del aire matan. Personally, I should have liked to have read what he might have had to say about Boccherini’s Clementina from 1786; while another masterwork of the later period, de Nebra’s magnificent Iphigenia en Tracia from 1747 – is only allotted a single paragraph. Though tonadilla is discussed, detailed analysis of a representative example or two (perhaps from the work of Luis Mison or Blas de Laserna) would also have completed the picture more fully, had space allowed.

But these are minor quibbles. In general, I have enthusiastic praise for Serna’s critical acumen in selecting which stage works to enlarge upon and which to skim over, especially in the earlier part of his book. Given its attractive presentation, 1621-1808 timeline, selective bibliography and expertly-compiled discography, plus indices of composers, authors and works, this judicious book fills a notable gap in zarzuela’s literature. As the first comprehensive guide to two hundred years of early Spanish lyric theatre, it deserves a very warm welcome indeed.

© Christopher Webber and, 2019

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