Zarzuela and the Rise of the Labour Movement in Spain

Michael Schinasi


Zarzuela—Spanish lyric theatre—traces its extraordinary popularity on the Iberian Peninsula to the reign of Isabel II (1844-68). Thereafter it never lost its public appeal. In the nineteenth century cultural commentators debated its debt to seventeenth century antecedents. Notwithstanding differing opinions on this, clearly its modern form emerged from Spanish musicians’ attempts to found a new national opera. When they failed to popularise a genre entirely in music, what remained was the zarzuela, which has both singing and spoken dialogue. This article focuses on the social nature of musicians’ hopes for a national opera; the way this arises from their difficult material situation in the face of competition from foreign music and artists, and the politics of early Spanish liberalism. After documenting the depth of artists’ concern with material life and the social language of their plan for action it suggests that we view the rise of the mature zarzuela in the light of Spain’s incipient labour movement. By doing so we in turn gain insight into an important aesthetic feature of zarzuela. Michael Schinasi is an Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and has a particular research interest in performance and the theatre industry in nineteenth-century Spain.

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