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Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Spanish Lyric Theater in the Eighteenth Century John Dowling "Does Spanish opera exist?" asked Antonio Peña y Goñi in 1881. His answer was emphatic: "Spanish opera does not exist; Spanish opera has never existed."1 More than three centuries after fully-sung Spanish operas were first performed, Peña's challenge is still argued; more than a century after he asked the question and notwithstanding Spain's rich history of lyric theater, it remains unresolved. Much depends on definition. For those who define opera as wholly sung, Spain offers rare examples. Like Peña, Emilio Cotarelo y Mori maintained, in his Historia de la zarzuela, that the national opera of Spain is the zarzuela, a play, serious or comic, which combines spoken dialogue with lyric passages that are sung.2 More recently, and from the perspective of our times, Xavier de la Calle has expanded this definition. The words and the music, he has written, should be so coupled one to the other that the music is rigorously faithful to the text in meaning , form, and aesthetic intent. Ideally, he adds (for reasons that will become evident), the zarzuela should be in two acts.3 Because of cultural and political ties between the two peninsulas , the music of Italy has often been ascendant in Spain, but the Spanish public and Spanish critics have generally been antipathetic to the recitative that characterizes Italian opera. Music and song and dance, however, have been defining elements of the Spanish theater since the time of Juan del Encina (c.1468c . 1529), called "father of the Spanish theater," and his contemporary , Lucas Fernández (c. 1474-1542), his rival and fellow SaIamancan . Musicians both, Encina served in the nearby palace of the Duke of Alba at Alba de Tormes; Fernández was employed at the cathedral of Salamanca and at the University. Good poets as well, they left their lasting imprint on the Spanish theater, which has ever been a verse theater always receptive to the enhancement of music. 129 130The Spanish Lyric Theater I The Calderonian Achievement. Among dramatic poets of the seventeenth century, two giants essayed new directions in the Spanish lyric theater. Lope de Vega (1562-1635), a facile versifier and a brilliant poet, trained the ears of audiences of his day to listen with delight as actors recited a dramatic text that moved easily from assonant rhyme through a variety of verse forms. Music, song, and dance enriched the performance. A generation later, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-81) carried Lope's patterns to new artistic and intellectual heights. Between the two of them, they fathered the creation of the greatest body of dramatic literature, in quantity and quality, that the world has ever known. For more than a century, from Lope's first play around 1580 to decades beyond Calderón's last in 1681, audiences flocked to Spanish theaters. Hundreds of poets obliged them with their wit and verse as actors with mellifluous tones sought to please. The plays were called comedias, and as created by Lope and his generation they were quick-moving, exciting, and romantic. In structure they followed a division into three acts, called jornadas ("journeys," or what might happen in a day). The first act presented the situation; in the second and most of the third, the playwright complicated the action; and as near the end as possible (for audiences might leave if they guessed the outcome) would be the denouement. The mode of the play could vary from farce to comedy to tragedy, and a single comedia might have elements of all three. The subject matter embraced all human experience and dreams, past and present. A comedia that had lyric elements might be described as a comedia con música. In such a play, the music or songs or dances were optional adornments that could even be moved from one play to another. A different modality was offered by a play described as a comedia de música, a form which can best be defined negatively: it was not a zarzuela. It had the three acts of a comedia, not the two that became typical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 129-157
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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