As popular musical theater which
flourished primarily in the last half of the nineteenth and the first half of
the twentieth centuries, it has long since been pronounced officially dead as
an art form. Several factors contributing to its demise may readily be
identified: for example, its ties to romantic nationalism and its favored
status with Spainís monarchyóthe very genre was named for the bramble
bushes outside the kingís hunting lodge!óled to its decline during the
Spanish Civil War. Likewise, during Francoís reign of terror, Spain was for
all practical purposes cut off from the rest of Europe, preventing the sort
of artistic cross-pollination (or at least appreciation) which might
otherwise have taken place. Nonetheless, the zarzuela arguably
played an important rÙle in the creation of modern-day Spanish national
consciousness. As such, it is being revived today as both a national source
of pride and a long-neglected contribution to the worldís musical scene.
This collection participates effectively in that endeavour.
It should be clarified that these are not new recordings. Rather, this set
gathers together previous recordings made in Madrid and Tenerife from 1993,
1994 and 1998. Given that factor, the first question to be asked of any
collection of previously-released works is: what principle or criterion was
used to select them? The particular collection in question is remarkably
coherent. In fact, an exploration of the hidden networks of
parentesco, or kinship, underlying this set will allow us a glimpse
of the entire history of this short-lived genre.
Each of the works selected for inclusion here is a classic in its own
right. Their grouping is a careful assortment of gÈnero grande
(ìgrandî or full-length zarzuelas, usually in three acts) and
gÈnero chico, or smaller works, usually limited to one-act pieces.
But a higher purpose was at work here than merely to offer the listener a
pleasant variety. Upon closer inspection, we discover that the first composer
represented here, Emilio Arrieta (1823-1894), was actually the teacher of the
second, Tom·s BretÛn (1850-1925). The third composer, Amadeo Vives
(1871-1932), in turn set out, in DoÒa Francisquita, explicitly to
imitate La verbena de la Paloma, by BretÛn. So we see that these
works exist not in isolation, but instead in symbiotic relationship to one
Likewise, in these recordings, these singers carry on an intimate andóin
some casesófamilial tradition. It is a little-known fact that the great
opera star Pl·cido Domingo was born to two zarzuela singers who
themselves performed with a touring company in Mexico, where they took their
son along to work. Growing up in this environment, which might be likened to
the Spanish equivalent of vaudeville, profoundly influenced the young singer
and encouraged him to pursue a musical career. This CD collection is not the
only time he has chosen, proudly, to return to his roots. In 2007, Domingo
assisted with the production of another recording of zarzuela arias
by stepping in himself to conduct the orchestra of the Comunidad de
Listening to this music, one can see how such fierceóindeed, almost
visceraló loyalty to this genre is well justified. Written by composers as
they sat in cafÈs and town squares (we actually know this in the case of
BretÛn, who confessed it), or as the direct result of rediscovering old
songs in the town library (in the case of Vives), these pieces offer a
picturesque glimpse of popular life. A true appreciation for zarzuela must
begin by accepting it on its own terms. This is not, nor was it ever intended
to be, highbrow entertainment. The incorporation of flamenco,
habaneras and other distinctly Spanish sounds affords the genre a
high degree of authenticity on a cultural scene in Spain which is too often
otherwise dismissed as largely derivative. A truly native genre, the
zarzuela until recently survived along with bull fights merely as an
attraction for tourists. Now, with these recordings, music lovers are
beginning to see their error in having ignored this vibrant art form.
The one real drawback to this boxed set is the printed book of
introductory essays and librettos. The translations are frankly abysmal and
the proofreading nonexistent. Here we find such unfelicitous mistakes as the
use of ìthirdî for ìthin,î ìlotî for ìnot,î and ìcarî for
ìearî (!). The result is at times only barely comprehensible, and then
only with reference to the originals. This was a shoddy way to package an
otherwise quality collection.
Hilaire Kallendorf, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies
Texas A&M University
product_title=Zarzuelas ó Arrieta: Marina; BretÛn: La verbena de la paloma; Vives: Bohemios and DoÒa Francisquita.
product_by=MarÌa Bayo, Pl·cido Domingo, Alfredo Kraus, et. al.
product_id=NaÔve V5120 [6CDs]