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• 64 • 3 Staging History, Staging National Identity Imagine a performance of West Side Story in which all the music sung by the lovers Tony and Maria has been removed. No “Maria,” no “Tonight.” They’re still on stage, they’re still in love, they just don’t sing. You would still have a pretty decent piece of musical theater with the Sharks and the Jets rumbling to Leonard Bernstein’s music. But you wouldn’t have a love story. You’d have a musical treatise on gang warfare, which isn’t the sort of thing anybody would put on stage to attract audiences and make money. And yet, in 1886, composer Federico Chueca and playwright Javier de Burgos did something very similar: they created a musical treatise on liberal constitutionalism. Cádiz is not a musical love story, as most operettas are. It displaces the traditional motor of musical theater plots, that of young love, and replaces it with a musical representation of the birthing pangs of Spanish liberalism: Cádiz has as its protagonists the Spanish people themselves. As zarzuela became the vehicle by which the Spanish people came to articulate their sense of national identity in the 1880s and 1890s, historical subjects became again common on the Spanish lyric stage. Even as the country was moving forward toward an urban future, zarzuelas used the past as a further way of unifying the Spanish people. The creation of a common historical narrative is crucial to the forging of national identity. It was one of the two defining factors outlined by Ernest Renan in his 1882 lecture “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?,” which gives one of the seminal definitions of nationalism. Modern scholars have also stressed the importance of a historical narrative that creates a shared national mythology to help bind the heterogeneous elements of a country’s population together. Normally, this is done through formal channels by the state—primarily through elementary and secondary education. Throughout the nineteenth century, governments created state-funded educational systems, and one of the goals of these systems was to inculcate students with appropriate histori- Staging History, Staging National Identity • 65 • cal narratives. Spain was one of the major exceptions to the creation of widespread elementary education. Due to the poverty of the Spanish government, most of the educational system in the country remained in the hands of the Catholic Church, which had a very different agenda in terms of creating a communal identity.1 As with other attempts to build a Spanish national identity , the effort of creating a nationalist historical narrative was going to have to come from outside the state. The librettists and composers of the género chico zarzuelas of the 1880s and 1890s were not interested in the entire sweep of Spanish history. History on the lyric stage meant the War of Independence, the struggle against the Napoleonic invasion of 1808–1813. In spite of Spain’s rich historical legacy, it is not surprising that this was the seminal moment for composers with nationalist aspirations. The War of Independence was the cornerstone of Spain’s liberal nationalist historical narrative, in which the people of Spain rose up against a foreign invader, reclaiming the country when the conservative forces of the Catholic Church and the Bourbon monarchy could not.2 The War of Independence was the perfect setting for stories that were not only historical romances but that also glorified the Spanish people, the bedrock of a liberal nationalist identity. The popular understanding of the Napoleonic invasion, in which the Spanish people rose up en masse to drive out the French (giving the world the term guerrilla in the process), became a central myth of Spanish history much as Valley Forge became a central myth of the American Revolution . But whereas Americans tend to obsess about George Washington, the Spanish glorified the average soldier. Zarzuela played the crucial role in making the average Spaniard the focus of the popular historical narrative. The seminal work of historical zarzuela—the one that served as the model for virtually all the others—was the brainchild of Javier de Burgos and Federico Chueca: Cádiz. The project presumably originated with Burgos, who was originally a newspaperman from Cádiz. Burgos was another one of those men, so prevalent in Restoration Spain, who lavished their time and their ink equally between the theater and the periodical press. He had served as the editor of La Palma de Cádiz from 1866 to 1868, and...


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