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• 21 • 1 Theatrical and Political Revolutions in Nineteenth-Century Spain Two revolutions occurred in Spain in 1868. The first will be familiar to everybody with even a cursory knowledge of Spanish history: the political revolution that dethroned Queen Isabella II and set off the chaotic interval known as the Revolutionary Sexenio. Between 1868 and 1874, Spain would experiment with various styles of government. Two attempts were made at enticing members of the European aristocracy into replacing the House of Bourbon as monarchs of Spain. The first attempt, which would have placed a member of the Hohenzollern family on the throne, inadvertently triggered the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, while the second enticed a member of the House of Savoy to reign in Spain as Amadeo I. He quickly abdicated, claiming that the Spanish were ungovernable. When that attempt at monarchy failed, the Spanish had a go at republican government that lasted eleven months. There were various caretaker military dictatorships, and after a politically exhausting six years, a final reversion to the Bourbon monarchy in 1874 in the person of the English-educated Alfonso XII, Isabella’s son. The second revolution of 1868 does not appear in books on the political history of Spain, as it took place not in the corridors of power but in the Café el Recreo in Madrid. It did not involve people shooting at each other or the fall of governments; instead, it involved people finding new ways to stage plays and profit from the theater. It was the birth of a unique theatrical system that flourished in Spain in the late nineteenth century. By the 1880s it would come to be known as the teatro por horas, the “theater by hours.” The idea was simple. Rather than staging a full-length play, theaters would stage several one-act plays per evening. What made the idea revolutionary was the fact that a separate admission fee would be charged for each play, and the audience would come and go as they pleased without having to sit through the entire evening’s bill, as is common when one-act plays are normally staged. Even Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 • 22 • with lowered prices—one could hardly charge full price for a forty-minute play—the potential profits for a theater were greater than if they had simply staged a full-length work.1 The birth of the teatro por horas was the birth of popular culture in Spain. Theaters would suddenly be responsible to a popular audience, and the survival of theatrical works would increasingly depend upon their box office appeal . One of the ways in which popular culture sought to maintain its hold on audiences and consumers was by presenting the world in a dramatic and spectacular fashion. Because of its need to attract audiences from across social boundaries, popular culture became one of the ways in which the rapidly shifting class structures of nineteenth-century Europe were portrayed and negotiated. And popular culture became one way in which people came to understand themselves, as material consumerism became a new marker of identity.2 The revolution of the teatro por horas would take some time to fully change the culture of zarzuela, however. The major works of the 1870s and the 1880s consisted of what has become known as the zarzuela grande, fulllength works with complex musical scores set against historical backdrops. But the zarzuela grande was running counter to the slowly developing ideas of popular culture: not only did it operate outside of the new system of the teatro por horas, there was an increasing disconnect between zarzuela and life as it was lived in Spain. Zarzuela, which had established itself as a nationalistic and essentially political genre in the 1850s, increasingly retreated from such stands after the Bourbon Restoration of the 1870s. It would be this withdrawal from the political that would allow the shorter works that developed under the teatro por horas to develop a new vision of Spanish nationalism. Such musical nationalism would come from Spain’s capital, Madrid. On the surface, this might seem odd, since the musical capital of Spain was arguably Barcelona. The Mediterranean port city, with its extensive rail and sea transport links, had much closer connections with musical life in France and Italy than did the relatively isolated capital. Barcelona’s main opera house, the Teatre del Liceu, dates from 1838 while the Teatro Real in Madrid only opened in 1850. Barcelona was a...


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