- Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain: 1880–1930 by Clinton D. Young
Few large musical repertories remain as generally unknown as the Spanish zarzuela. In this volume, Clinton D. Young places the genre within a detailed political and social context from the middle of the nineteenth century to the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), despite the shorter span of time demarcated in his title. He provides sufficient material on Spanish history, background on composers and librettists, the zarzuela industry, content of selected works, and the critical and audience reception to allow readers to wander through this quintessentially Spanish world and appreciate how this middlebrow form of light musical theater took on significant political and social meaning. What the volume unfortunately lacks is a metaphorical soundtrack, or a sense that his readers know any of the music well enough to understand the genre. This is not entirely Young's fault—his musical descriptions are surprisingly good for a conventional historian—but few will recognize enough examples of zarzuela to bring the music alive.
In his "Acknowledgments," Young expresses gratitude to Pamela Radcliff, his advisor at the University of California, San Diego, who allowed him to "communicate musical ideas to people who don't read music—and this project wouldn't exist otherwise" (p. xi). Such readership is common in academic publishing, even for books by music scholars, but often these are studies of more famous repertories. Young's musical descriptions include mention of meters and affects of nineteenth-century dance types that appear in zarzuelas, as well as knowledgeable commentary on forms and types of ensembles. He also offers a serviceable presentation of the ways in which Richard Wagner and other serious opera composers influenced zarzuela as it became more of an art form in the years after World War I. But mentions of "a mazurka-style chorus" (p. 53), "two waltzes that betray Léhar's influence" (p. 93), or the suggestion that the score of a famous zarzuela "has a tendency to sound very much like mid-period Verdi, only with more castanets" (p. 130) offer only musical vignettes. For the musically savvy reader, including many who consult reviews in this publication, musical examples would have been useful to illustrate these points, and recorded examples on an accompanying compact disc or at the LSU Press website would have been even better. (To see how effective musical examples can be in elucidating the genre, readers might consult, for example, Susan Thomas's Cuban Zarzuela: Performing Race and Gender on Havana's Lyric Stage [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008]). In his "Appendix: Core Zarzuelas," Young notes that his study emphasizes the shows that were available on compact discs in Madrid stores, which may indicate careful research, but his readers would benefit from more access to the music that he considered. Another unfortunate aspect of the book is the complete lack of illustrations, which is very different [End Page 412] from Janet Sturman's book, Zarzuela: Spanish Operetta, American Stage (Music in American Life [Urbana: Uni versity of Illinois Press, 2000]), which contains many useful images.
Young chose a fascinating period in the history of the genre and illuminates it in an organized fashion. He opens his "Overture" with the coincidental deaths in February 1894 of Francisco Asenjo Barbieri and Emilio Arrieta, both highly respected composers of zarzuelas who worked in competing aesthetics. He continues by identifying major themes of Spanish history discussed in his volume, and a detailed description of La verbena de la paloma (1894), the most popular zarzuela of its day, by Tomás Bretón. Although the plot was hardly nationalistic by the standards of Giuseppe Verdi or Richard Wagner, Bretón's use of the jota, seguidilla, and flamenco genres guaranteed that audiences heard his work as praise for Spanish culture. Young then identifies the next major eras of Spanish zarzuela: the late nineteenth century, when the...