The Teatro de la Zarzuela turned 150 during the season concluded last month. This symbolic milestone provides a pretext to make a full examination of the health of zarzuela, the stage genre reborn only five years before the founding of the theatre which bears its name.
150th birthday celebrations for Teatro de la Zarzuela
We reviewed at the time the galas of October 10th and 13th 2006, as the central plank of the theatre’s 150th anniversary celebrations. The relatively restricted numbers able to fill the theatre to the rafters both nights were boosted by the mass audience able to listen in through the media, both directly and in deferred RTVE television broadcasts. On the anniversary day itself a commemorative plaque was unveiled on the theatre’s facade, with a bronze bas-relief featuring Barbieri, Gaztambide, Olona and Salas, the quartet of composers, librettist and singer who laid the first stone (figuratively and literally) of the celebrated institution building. The foyer has been graced with a bust of Alfredo Kraus, partly in homage to the eminent tenor, but also to recall the reopening of the theatre itself in 1956 on the occasion of its centenary, with the famous production of Doña Francisquita directed by José Tamayo and sung by el cantante canario. Official commemorations concluded with publication of a series of books and discs covered below.
Commemorative publications for 150 years
In pride of place is the publication by the theatre itself of an illustrated history of handsome graphical abundance (Teatro de la Zarzuela, 150 años), edited by the director of the National Theatre Museum, Andrés Peláez, and which includes unpublished photographs of the building outside and in; as well as varied images of stagings made there, classified according to genres; and of performers whose career is associated with the institution; the book is completed by an appendix listing all the theatre’s premieres. In addition to this, in collaboration with SGAE the theatre has published a 4-CD set of live opera and zarzuela recordings from its archive, also reviewed here on zarzuela.net. It has also announced an imminent project of recording a “pop” disc, where current celebrity singers will interpret popular highlights of the repertoire in their own style in an attempt to sell zarzuela to a younger audience.
Several other institutions have recently joined in the birthday celebrations for the “temple on Jovellanos” with individual publications. Thus for example the Fundación de la Zarzuela Española brought into the light over the last three years an equal number of volumes making up a monumental Historia del Teatro de la Zarzuela de Madrid, written by Emilio García Carretero, former stalwart of the theatre’s chorus. This work presents a chronological narrative of the theatre’s first 150 years, paying special attention to the premieres; the third, heavier volume covers the later years, of which the author can write in the first person. More recently the Fundación has put on sale a DVD with a script by García Carretero which attempts to summarize his three volumes in a little more than four-hour long documentary, and which also contains an abundantly rich audio-visual documentation of unpublished material originating (amongst other places) from NODO, the famous Noticiario Documental that was shown in all Spanish cinemas during the Franco dictatorship; and from the theatre’s own archive.
The ICCMU (Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales) has produced a handsome book: Francisco Asenjo Barbieri: Crónica de la lírica española y Fundación del Teatro de la Zarzuela, 1839-1863. This includes texts by Barbieri himself commenting on Spanish lyric theatre in the central years of the 19th, though these were previously published in the second volume of Emilio Casares’ biography of the great composer and musicologist. The book is prefaced by a study from that biographer, and the publication is complemented with a generous graphical apparatus and list of works premiered in the theatre.
Published studies on zarzuela
The first modern musicological studies of romantic zarzuela appeared at the beginning of the Nineties with the creation of the Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales (ICCMU), directed since then by Professor Casares Rodicio. Its ceaseless academic activity over more than fifteen years has borne fruit in numerous publications that have appeared as beacons in what had been a relatively barren bibliographical panorama.
The bibliography of zarzuela has three great landmarks: The documentation of the 1995 International Congress La Zarzuela en España e Hispanoamérica. Centro y periferia, 1800-1950 (published in 1997 in the magazine Cuadernos de Música Iberoamericana), which – besides masterfully marking out the lines of musicological study opened up for zarzuela – provides a very useful, exhaustive bibliography; the monumental Diccionario de la Música Española e Hispanoamericana (1999/2002, ICCMU), where the entries on zarzuela composers catalogue all their compositions, not just stage works; and the “reference bible”, the Diccionario de la Zarzuela. España e Hispanoamérica, Vol.1 y Vol.2. This last was published by the Institute in 2002/03 and has just been republished in its second edition: important news, as the first edition sold out very quickly.
In addition, in the last fifteen years important monographs on zarzuela composers (Barbieri, Arrieta, Chapí, Bretón…) have appeared from several academics; various writers are currently working on doctoral theses or works of similar scope about others (Hernando, Oudrid, Fernández Caballero, Chueca…) or on aspects of the genre. We may hope that soon these will bear fruit through publication.
Setting aside works of academic scope, several substantial and widely distributed books have played an important role for Spanish and foreign aficionados. The critic Roger Alier has dedicated many years to presenting zarzuela history through diverse publications that, different though the titles or editions may be, amount practically to a single work: his books (the most recent sample of which is the volume La zarzuela published by Ma Non Troppo) can in fact be considered an antecedent of the ICCMU Diccionario.
The publication in America and England of The Zarzuela Companion has proved, on the other hand, of capital importance to the international diffusion of zarzuela. Christopher Webber’s book combines informative rigor and a totally personal vision of the genre, without at any time sacrificing the readability which a work of this nature demands.
Completing the academic picture are some musical, literary or sociological studies of the genre, by university teachers working in various fields and countries (Alberto Romero Ferrer, Carmen del Moral Ruiz, Antoine Le Duc, Janet L. Sturman, Serge Salaün et.al.) as well as the briefer articles penned by diverse specialists in the meticulously documented articles that enrich the programmes published by the Teatro de la Zarzuela for each staged production.
Alongside the investigative task, ICCMU has since 1992 been busy commissioning a massive amount of editorial work. So far forty zarzuelas, twenty Spanish operas and ten Hispanic baroque music theatre works have been published for the first time ever in orchestral editions, a fact of undeniable importance. This series, which opened with an emblematic title from Spanish lyric theatre history, the “foundation” zarzuela in three acts Jugar con fuego, takes in works of very varied nature. In many cases they are of pieces that have enjoyed extraordinary popularity, yet where the lack of a orchestral edition has become a serious limitation for dissemination (such as El barberillo de Lavapiés, La revoltosa, La corte de Faraón , Luisa Fernanda and a long list of others). In other cases they are of forgotten works of nevertheless enormous musical-theatrical value (El juramento, El grumete, La venta de Don Quijote, La mala sombra et. al.) which have been rescued from decades of unjust oblivion.
On many occasions the publishing activity of the ICCMU is in close communion with the Teatro de la Zarzuela – or even other companies, for example Ópera Cómica de Madrid with Mis dos mujeres; in fact nowadays practically all the works seen on the stage in Calle Jovellanos use new editions, prepared well before. Even so there are still many works of the basic repertoire (about two hundred zarzuelas) which remain unpublished, quite aside from the plethora of forgotten works (up to about fifteen thousand) awaiting revival. Performing editions are a first step, at least guaranteeing that performers approach to them is not piecemeal and can be easily repeated.
In addition ICCMU publishes a second series: vocal scores. Although in this case the initiative is not so novel – since several hundred zarzuelas were published in this format at the time of their premieres, with the most successful continually republished so over decades – this work is also crucial in helping to spread the repertoire amongst singers, and promote zarzuela in vocal recitals. In 2000 ICCMU published a voluminous catalogue (Archivo Histórico de la Unión Musical Española. Partituras, métodos, libretos y libros) where almost all “reduced” versions of zarzuela can be found, single numbers as well as the complete scores produced in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries by various publishers, most of whom ended up in one form or another grouped together under the banner of the Union Musical Española (UME).
Some special initiatives, such as those of the Fundación Jacinto e Inocencio Guerrero, and UME-Music Sales Ltd. in collaboration with our London editor Christopher Webber, have seen the appearance of individual collections of romanzas with piano accompaniment; the first with eight volumes dedicated to the work of the Ajofrín composer; the second so far with four publications, including some numbers with the added incentive of singable English translations for some of the most important vocal highlights from the zarzuela repertoire.
Certain other institutions (such as the Sociedad Española de Musicología and the Institución Fernando el Católico) have promoted editions of music theatre from the Spanish baroque. So far, though, nobody outside the boundaries of ICCMU has been moved to publish any modern editions of romantic zarzuela on their own account. [ed. Not quite. The Fundación Guerrero publish a scholarly, bilingual Spanish-Chinese edition of the text ofLa rosa del azafrán!]
As for complete, new editions of librettos a fundamental demand from aficionados to bring them closer to the heart of the matter, not least when listening to zarzuela on disc we can only count upon a handful of modern género chico compilations (from Alberto Romero for Ediciones Cátedra, and from the publishing arm of the University of Cadiz) or in Complete Works of canonic authors such as Arniches. There are also some zarzuela monographs which include the text; such as the now out of print Daimon series, from a team of authors under Roger Alier; or the Ledoria editions under José Prieto Marugán. The leading lyric theatres palliate this bibliographical deficiency as best they can and here, the work of the Teatro de la Zarzuela, with its model programme books, stands out as a shining example. But what’s needed, of course, is a systematic re-editing of the repertoire texts, in accessible published form.
CD and DVD
After the fertile years from the 50’s to the 70’s in which a considerable number of recordings of core repertoire zarzuelas were made, the 80’s and 90’s saw only sporadic recordings and isolated initiatives. The project undertaken by Auvidis Valois, sponsored by Fundación Caja de Madrid, aspired towards the creation of a new collection of zarzuela on CD, but the small number of releases never added up to a full series. The new century has brought a hopeful increase in recording activity, in spite of [ed. what some perceive as] a general ossification in the classical record industry.
Deutsche Grammophon (part of Universal Music Group) has taken up with plucky zest the torch of Auvidis. This is the first occasion in modern times in which a great record company has promised to record zarzuela in a systematic way; though so far there’ve been only three releases, with a fourth of Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente and La tempranica on the way. Let’s hope this company and the business institutions supporting can speed up the recording rate and to be able throughout next the two decades to emulate the work of the Argenta era.
Naxos, with its huge international distribution, has launched its first (and doubtless not last) complete zarzuela recording El caserío; although its “expensive” label, Marco Polo, has previously released several, rare Basque and Spanish operas (Amaya, Mendi Mendiyan and María del Carmen). Meanwhile significant anniversaries have given rise to commemorative recordings of such little-known works such as El centro de la tierra and El hijo fingido. Altogether around 20 new complete zarzuela titles have emerged since the dawn of compact disc, a number which feels too small –– although the tally passes 30 if we add modern recordings of Spanish opera, or 40 if we include the most recent discs of tonadilla escénica, plus the baroque zarzuela and allied works.
In addition, since the appearance of Compact Disc in the mid-1980’s BMG and EGREM have in fits and starts remastered and republished parts of their zarzuela LP catalogues; a laudable policy which we should not cease to applaud, since without it these recordings would be languishing in the vaults. In all honesty, though, the more recent BMG editions have not been as carefully produced as they should have been, with inadequate documentation, no texts, an old fashioned look, and sonic engineering that does no justice to the range and quality of the original microgroove sound.
The story of zarzuela productions on DVD isn’t too exciting when compared against the effervescent world of opera. Ópera Cómica de Madrid has already released Mis dos mujeres and a beautiful double bill of Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente and El bateo, with more titles in prospect. From the Teatro Real we have Emilio Sagi’s Luisa Fernanda (distributed around the world by ArtHaus); and El dúo de La africana in José Luis Alonso’s famous production. Some Teatro de la Zarzuela productions, not initially filmed with commercial release in mind, have also make it to the DVD market. In spite of that, not to be able to enjoy some of the most emblematic stagings from this theatre in this format – Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, La del manojo de rosas, Don Gil de Alcalá, Pan y toros and so many others that without doubt would go down a storm with a public ever eager for new releases – is quite unforgivable. The other releases in this format stem from stagings by the José Luis Moreno company, the zarzuela festivals of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, and the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa, California. All these are distant from the standards of the productions mentioned earlier, though at least they add to the store of the recorded repertoire.
As far zarzuela on film is concerned, there's nothing new to add apart from remastered DVDs of some antiquated classics, for example the famous series directed by Juan de Orduña for TV, or the legendary 1930's version of La dolorosa from Jean Grémillon.
Solo recitals on CD and video have been relatively numerous lately. Spanish and Hispano-American singers such as María Bayo (in zarzuela barroca), Ana María Sánchez, Carlos Álvarez, Ainhoa Arteta, José Bros, María José Montiel and Rolando Villazón have imbued well-known romanzas with their own personality, often throwing some appetizing rarity revived for the occasion into the mix, all of which helps to complement the rich legacy of song recorded in former times by the legendary stars of the Spanish school. In this context we must mention the Swiss soprano Noëmi Nadelmann’s singular recent recording for the German Indie house Genuin, the first zarzuela recital recorded without Spanish participation, under the baton of Thomas Herzog. This is a clear token of the international coming of age of the genre.
Other compilation discs of significance complete the picture. The collection Zarzuela Preludes, also from Naxos, is in all probability the best selling and most widely distributed zarzuela disc in phonographic history, and the first point of contact with the genre for a huge number of music lovers. Other albums have been dedicated to individual composers such as Barbieri, Alonso or Guerrero. Recordings of wind band arrangements appear, as do medleys scored for diverse chamber groups, those of Ensamble de Madrid being outstanding in quality.
A last aspect of capital importance is the modern remastering of old 78rpm shellac recordings of zarzuela and revue, taken in hand by companies with an enormous love of the repertoire, compiling fragments to reconstruct whole works or give us an ampler vision of a composer or interpreter. Thus Blue Moon, Aria Recording, Homokord, and the collections of Spanish revista (revue) from Gardenia-Ventura and Sonifolk, make up an impressive roster of recordings to give us at least the tip of an iceberg recorded between 1900 and 1950 – and one which waits for a slow but essential complete return to life.
Not everything recorded in this last quarter of century is equally valuable. The repertory classics, already captured often and well, have in some cases written merely another entry in the register, adding only the (admittedly great) incentive of modern sound. Exceptions to this are the Doña Francisquita from Kraus and Bayo, and the Tabernera from Domingo and that self-same Navarrese soprano. As for the rarities that have so far made it to disc, well done though they might be, when compared against the repertory classics their archival value exceeds artistic merit. Then again, the restricted distribution of Spanish-made discs from Autor or RTVE-Música (most active in zarzuela next to the Auvidis-Deutsche Grammophon project) and of the collections of 78 rpm transfers, makes access problematic for aficionados at home and abroad. It ought to be possible to redress the balance, through internet sales; this should be able to considerably extend the diffusion of these recordings, at the same time as offering the companies concerned a greater economic yield. The importance of actually selling these discs outside (and inside) Spain cannot be underestimated.
Theatres and auditoriums - seasons and festivals
Since the 1980s, with democratization and the opening up of the country to Europe and the world, Spain has taken gigantic steps in cultural policy. Massive economic investment has brought to every corner of the land an impressive network of concert halls and theatres, in the latter case partly through construction of new venues, but mainly through careful restoration and technical modernisation of emblematic old buildings. On top of this has come the creation of a well-nourished corpus of orchestras and choral groups, and the consolidation of pre-existent ones.
Thus more or less established lyric theatre venues such as Bilbao, Oviedo on the Cantabrian coast, or Las Palmas and Tenerife in the Canary Islands have been joined by new centres of excellence such as Seville, Jerez de la Frontera, Sabadell, Valladolid and so forth - though it must be acknowledged that some of these were heirs in variable degree to music-theatre traditions going back decades or even centuries. All these centres have one operatic season with at least four production annually, with almost always one being zarzuela. Exceptions to the rule are the two Canary capitals and Oviedo, where the existence of local zarzuela festivals exempts them from including zarzuelas in their operatic cycles. Other zarzuela festivals worthy of mention in cities outside the main lyric circuit are those of Barakaldo (in the Basque Country), Logroño (La Rioja) and La Solana (Castilla-La Mancha). In addition, quite a number of cities regularly programme zarzuela in their “Teatro Principal”, or multi-purpose “Palacio de Congresos”.
Spain’s two great lyric temples, Teatro Real in Madrid and Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, monopolist recipients of an enormous segment of the public culture budget, have completely forgotten zarzuela – with the ignominious excuse that “it is not opera”. Madrid’s Real has sporadically flirted with the Spanish genre since its 1997 reopening after decades of usage as a mere concert hall, though its zarzuela stagings can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Admittedly this risible number seen slightly boosted by concert or fully staged revivals of several Spanish operas, whereas the Barcelona Liceu has totally ignored the zarzuela repertoire since its reconstruction in the 1990’s – most notably failing to fulfil its responsibilities to the overlooked Catalan sarsuela. After years of marginal lyric stage activity, the city of Valencia has finally opened its great opera house with the intention of taking its place on the international opera scene. Auspiciously, in its first season the Palau de les Arts was wise enough to make space for zarzuela; and it will do likewise in its recently announced second season, consolidating zarzuela’s presence from the start.
Returning to the newly opened buildings – in just the last few months Valladolid has opened a fantastic new auditorium, whilst San Sebastián, Palma de Mallorca and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands have reopened three beautifully restored 19th century theatres – the Madrid area has recently gained three new and very different spaces where zarzuela has or will (we hope) have a place. The Teatro Auditorio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial opened last summer, with the aim of making the mountain enclave a Madrilenian Salzburg, and at its inception the summer festival included zarzuela.
In the city centre the National Centre for Drama has erected a second venue with two theatre spaces, the modern Teatro Valle-Inclán in downtown Lavapiés. As this is directly funded by the Ministry of Culture, we may hope it will be utilised to take on some of the congested schedule of the multi-purpose Teatro de la Zarzuela (likewise on the Ministry’s payroll) as well as welcoming music-theatre experiences of all kinds. Almost at the same moment a new Teatro Circo Price has appeared again in the Atocha district, for the cultivation of those circus arts which since the demolition of the old Teatro del Circo in Plaza del Rey (where in 1851 the romantic zarzuela was born, through the Barbieri work mentioned earlier) have only been seen in the city’s two bullrings. The mighty project of the Teatros del Canal – the future Centro de las Artes Escénicas de la Comunidad de Madrid – will in a few months’ time add its link to this remarkable chain of theatre openings.
The Teatro de la Zarzuela itself, covered so regularly by zarzuela.net, yet demands a little further discussion. It’s undeniable that its highest priority activity is the Spanish lyric genre; and that its productions, paragons comparable with any great opera house, are reference points for the zarzuela world. But the theatre offers one very limited season with a maximum of four productions, which impedes development of a realistic programming policy offering a fair combination of the most popular repertoire with revivals of forgotten works of stature. Once again we should insist on the real necessity to increase – to at least double the current count – the number of stagings on offer, by applying formulas of proven effectiveness such as co-production with other theatres, repertory programming, the inclusion of more “dicey” titles in concert versions, the use of a second venue for cut-price productions with young casts and production teams… this is an exhortation which should never cease.
It has to be said that the live broadcasting of all productions from Madrid’s temple of zarzuela by Radio Clásica, national radio’s specialist art music channel, is something deserving of the highest praise. Yet how senseless that these same productions cannot be relayed by Spanish Television (TVE), something that happens as a matter of course with at least part of the opera season at the Teatro Real. Besides providing a much more complete sense of the theatrical spectacle than radio allows, this would enable the Zarzuela Theatre to be seen beyond our borders (through TVE’s International Channel) and this multiplied distribution would help amortize the high costs of productions.
The deficiency of the complete season in the Teatro de la Zarzuela is compensated for, to some extent, by initiatives such as the tried and tested cycle of “Forgotten Zarzuelas” that has been developed over the past few years in the Auditorio del Centro Cultural Conde Duque, where Ópera Cómica de Madrid have been presenting concert versions for singers and piano of some wonderful works with a view to promoting their claims to the full staging that would reveal them in all their glory. What’s more, this Madrid company has refused to play safe, staging quite a few of these pearls (Emigrantes, La señora capitana, El dominó azul, Mis dos mujeres, El relámpago, Gloria y peluca, El barquillero, Los descamisados …) in the Teatro del Bosque of Móstoles in the southern suburbs, in the Centro Cultural de la Villa and other Spanish venues. This last named theatre has become a focus for zarzuela from many companies during los Veranos de la Villa, the summer festival starting each July.
What’s more, Teatro Español has devoted its summer productions in the last few years to zarzuelas by the iconic Sorozábal, and several of the city’s open spaces (la corrala de la calle Mesón de Paredes, la muralla árabe, los jardines de Sabatini etc.) have brought zarzuela to the streets with unbuttoned, festive productions. Talking of which, coinciding with the spring fiestas de San Isidro Madrid City Council promoted two massive pop stagings of zarzuela whose blockbuster modernity was their least controversial aspect. If the aim was to attract a new audience, a praiseworthy thing which de facto succeeded, the budget of these one-day, off-one events was enough to have mounted a complete season elsewhere…
Zarzuela in concert - music festivals and recitals
At the margin of the zarzuela festivals – better called “seasons”, by reason of the number of programmed works and months-long duration – we shouldn’t forget the less generic music and theatre festivals, most but not all in the summer, that enrich Spanish billboards. More and more frequently zarzuela is there in the mix, either staged, or in song recitals – here, most often with celebrity singers. On occasion a zarzuela has led the way as curtain raiser for some of these, as with the Calipso [El joven Telémaco] in Mérida, or the thought-provoking La verbena de la Paloma in Granada.
For their part, if and when Spanish orchestras programme stage music, Spanish or not, it’s no rarity to find a special gala lírica of vocal and instrumental highlights – something that the case of the RTVE Symphony Orchestra has become an annual obligation, through their concert of winners from the main Spanish vocal competitions. Occasionally we also find zarzuelas sung complete in concert, with singers customarily found in the world of theatre as an added incentive to raise audience figures.
The wind band is the concert setting in which zarzuela receives most attention. Of the numberless groups distributed all over Spain, no doubt the Banda Sinfónica Municipal de Madrid is pre-eminent: in every season, whether indoors in the Teatro Monumental or outside on the bandstand of the Retiro park, they can be found playing a quantity of selections, fantasies and transcriptions of zarzuela for band. Even so, the Valencia area, with its infinite list of musical societies, is rather the place where more zarzuela in concert is heard than anywhere else in the world.
As you’d expect, the number of Spanish singer/pianist recitals offering romanzas or other fragments from zarzuela is enormous. The range of places where these concerts take place is very great: from tiny local assembly halls through cultural centres and city council chambers, to great concert halls, taking in a variety of more or less suitable spaces – churches, historic houses and the like.
The commercial companies
The list of commercial companies playing zarzuela throughout Spain would be long and complex to compile, since sometimes we find the same individuals wearing different hats. It would be impossible nevertheless to get away without listing such classic names from the world of zarzuela as Antonio Amengual’s Compañía Lírica Española; the compañía lírica de Nieves Fernández de Sevilla; the Teatro Lírico de Barcelona of Josep Maria Damunt; Proyecto Verdi founded by the Gulín-Blancas couple.
It has to be said clearly that these companies – admittedly risking a deal of money with their productions – usually bet on “playing safe”, with theatre conventions anchored firmly in the past. But to be frank, with each succeeding tour they find things less safe than they thought. Take for example José Luis Moreno’s Miramón Mendi, whose ambitious vision of constructing a new music-theatre complex in the city of Madrid has sadly been put on ice. We have to be optimistic about their artistic future: let’s hope that time and their natural inclination to find common ground with new generations of aficionados will bring about radical change in the production style of these companies.
We should also give the nod to the intense zarzuela activity of semi-professionals or aficionados, specially excellent in Catalonia and Valencia but good elsewhere too. With looser production constraints (for budgetary reasons) some of them manage to get well within striking distance artistically of some of these professional companies. Between them, the commercial companies and aficionados are a most excellent instrument for direct communication of the genre away from the great cities and prime theatrical circuits.
This section is pure desert if what we’re looking for is a zarzuela premiere, in the understood historical sense. Despite that, diverse music-theatre experiences not directly to be categorised within the close bounds of any classic genre can be considered to inherit or partly continue the zarzuela tradition. Such things spring to mind as the fresh-minted musicals from the Dagoll Dagom group, or some examples from contemporary music theatre – José María Cano’s Luna, through to Caballero de la triste figura by Tomás Marco, or Dulcinea from Mauricio Sotelo. Nor should we forget more mainstream pieces such as the “operetta” Virginia vírginis by the much lamented Benito Lauret.
But it is evident that romantic zarzuela is de facto a dead, historical genre. In spite of which, to promote its culture through a modern and intellectually enriching lens, refocussing the familiar repertoire whilst working with forgotten works where the revival almost becomes the premiere, is also a form of innovation. In this way we can avoid the “museum mentality” which in the absence of contemporary creativity so restricts interpreters.
The international familiarity of zarzuela, to which zarzuela.net contributes through its reviews of numerous live and recorded performances – and its being primarily an English platform makes it comprehensible in almost every corner of the world – is more and more important. Vocal recitals including zarzuela romanzas or orchestral preludios and intermedios are encountered more and more frequently, and zarzuela galas are almost commonplace (such as those directed by Thomas Herzog in Switzerland, Austria, Cyprus and Germany).
Some European and American houses and festivals specializing in theatrical lyric comedy – for example, Vienna’s referential Volksoper, the innovative Thalia Theatre in Amsterdam, the well-established Trieste operetta festival, the more recent Ohio Light Opera) regularly include zarzuela in their programming on an equal basis with operetta and other kindred genres. In addition, zarzuela production is longer exceptional in parts of Europe such as Germany, Austria or France, is a reality in any country with even a minimal music-theatre tradition, from Italy to Japan.
The case of the United States is singular, since in spite of a predominantly Anglo-Saxon culture the size of its Hispanic population has meant that for over a century zarzuela has filled a regular cultural slot; New York, Santa Fe and several cities in Florida have arts centres programming zarzuela with regularity, mainly – but not exclusively – in very traditional stagings attended by a faithful public.
Nor should we forget Hispano-America, where zarzuela has enjoyed a tradition dating back at least to the 1850’s, when many composers and Spanish companies travelled across the Atlantic to perform it. Although we do not have much information about it, we intuit that zarzuela is still a normal part of cultural life in countries such as Argentina, Mexico or Peru, all of which may boast regular seasons and specialized companies. Many of these South and Central American countries (and also the Philippines) developed indigenous zarzuela forms, although those native repertoires have survived the passage of time less well than the imported Spanish original. It’s the task of Hispano-American musicologists to study these national schools of zarzuela, thus making possible the revival and spread of the more important works.
But all of this international interest in zarzuela finds a good few obstacles when theatrical or orchestral promoters try to present it, on stage or off. It is a concern that SGAE, the society which manages the performing rights of Spanish stage works, does not always respond with alacrity to these theatres, orchestras or performers from distant places in their hopeful attempts to stage complete zarzuelas or perform some romanza, intermedio or other. Getting hold of orchestral materials or managing rights and royalties, often turn out to be labyrinthine tasks which on many occasions discourage the promoters and force them to program other pieces more squarely on the beaten path. It is the duty of those who in theory guard the interests of the authors and composers (or now their heirs), to maximise fully the number of performances from this great music-theatre patrimony which they protect. They cannot function as if they were a Ministry…
It’s not difficult, given all the activity catalogued here, to conclude that zarzuela is in some senses more alive than ever. In many, diverse aspects – the more varied repertoire, diminution of prejudice, more and more creative staging, the unstoppable growth in academic, multi-disciplinary knowledge of the genre – all these favour the programming of zarzuela in what were until recently geographic and cultural unthinkable situations, technically and artistically.
Let’s not forget the significant shift that has taken place
in public attitudes, as far as their perception of the quality, of the genre
itself as much as stage productions. For many people born in the years after
the Civil War (i.e. those up to about 65) zarzuela is systematically associated
with Francoism, because during that period certain aspects of the genre were
tied in with “mainstream culture”, and some echoes of that persist
to the present day. And linking this form of music theatre to that ill-starred
period of Spanish history doubtless has the effect of saddling it with
“traditional” values (for better, but mainly for worse) at the same
time as making it aesthetically old-fashioned. The performing practice
initiated in the mid-1980’s by theatre directors of the stature of
José Luis Alonso, Adolfo Marsillach or Francisco Nieva, and happily
continued down to the present by a constellation of younger regiseurs,
has not only changed the perception of the “zarzuela phenomenon” as
far as audiences are concerned, but also of Spanish society in general. The
inherent cultural values of this “theatre with music” have swept
away the dust deposited on it by the shifting sands of history.
The ridiculous inferiority complexes indulged by the Spanish opera houses when it comes to programming La Zarzuela alongside her older sister should be, so we think, condemned to disappear. It’s ironic that foreign opera houses are nothing like so prejudiced! After all, to celebrate 400 years of opera and to forget 150 years of zarzuela (and that’s only to speak of the romantic genre, since if we counted the Baroque both sisters were born within about forty years!) is really only the problem of a few programming managers who don’t wish to put on their glasses to see reality.
© Ignacio Jassa Haro 2007