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Reviewed by:
  • Lisa Jackson-Schebetta
Young, Clinton D. Music Theatre and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880-1930. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2016. 237 pp.

In Music Theatre and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880-1930, Clinton D. Young examines how the zarzuela ("music theatre") dynamically intersects with profound and contradictory shifts in conceptualizations of Spanish national identity. With particular attention to the lead up and aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the rise and fall of the Primo de Rivera government, and the initial formations of the Second Republic, Young argues that the zarzuela became the "main way in which Spaniards understood" themselves in relation to one another, to Spain, and to Europe (18). Young's attention to the development of the zarzuela represents a significant contribution to Spanish cultural histories. Also of note is Young's significant musical knowledge, which enables him to perform close readings of orchestral scores, effectively offering up an entire archive to his readers that may not be accessible otherwise.

Young foregrounds the absence of a central, state-sponsored nation-making project in Spain as fundamental to the development of the zarzuela as a forum for popular nationalism, which he characterizes as a ground-up labor of identity making. Through the zarzuela, Young contends, we can apprehend the ways in which Spaniards represented key, and often conflicting, versions of themselves and their nation. The zarzuela absorbed anxieties about and offered responses to increasing industrialization, the integration of regionalized populations, and the position of Spain in both Europe and the Americas. After the final defeat of Spain in the American hemisphere in 1898, the zarzuela figured and refigured the charged debates over whether Spanish cultural and political reform should emerge from the city or the country, draw from an essential Spanish-ness or be shaped by broader European sensibilities. Throughout his examination, Young includes close analyses of multiple zarzuelas, with attention to their textual and musical content, composers, place of performance, and reception.

In the "Overture," Young provides a broad description of the zarzuela and its pre-1880 history. In chapter one, Young positions the development of the "teatro por horas"—evenings of short one acts, with admission charged separately for each piece—as the birth of popular culture in Spain. The zarzuela, as a long-form genre, initially remained separate from the teatro por horas. Though the zarzuela had emerged in the 1850s as a political and nationalistic genre, by the 1870s it had, in response to the Bourbon Restoration, removed itself from explicitly political ventures. The teatro por horas, increasingly popular and widely appealing, took the lead in imagining national identity through short, non-musical works. The pressures of the popular stage, however, alongside the formidable zarzuela composer Francisco Asenjo Barbieri's experimentation with shorter works, combined to effectively reinvent the zarzuela. Chapter two tracks the rise of the resultant "género chico," or small genre, of the zarzuela: an operetta with contemporary, urban settings and working class characters. The género chico, Young argues, displayed an acute responsiveness to the urbanization projects of Spain, the place of cities in Spain's national [End Page 740] identity, and the changing nature of cities themselves through the genre's incorporation of the multi-cultural dance music increasingly prevalent in Spanish cities. The zarzuela, thus, provided a bridge between the bourgeois composers, diverse urban audiences, and working class topics. Yet, the zarzuela, like Spanish national identity-making, was neither tidy nor straightforward. Chapter three examines how the zarzuela also foregrounded the chorus to create visions of an eternal and essential Spain, drawing upon—like so much cultural production in Spain of the period—the War of Independence against Napoleon, 1808-13. Young characterizes the Napoleon zarzuelas as heralding Spain's self-sufficiency, which faltered brutally with Spain's defeat in the American hemisphere in 1898, the central preoccupation of chapter four.

Chapter four is a particularly compelling example of Young's ability to meld theatrical, musical, political, and cultural history. Beginning with "one of the most genuinely subversive and disturbing works ever performed," Manuel Fernández Caballero's Gigantes y Cabezudos (Giants and Fat-Headed Dwarves), Young describes the textual content of the zarzuela, deftly articulating...


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