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• 83 • 4 Regenerationism, Viennese Operetta, and Spanish Nationalism In the history of light musical theater, one of the most genuinely subversive and disturbing works ever performed might well be Gigantes y cabezudos (Giants and Fat-Headed Dwarfs), the hit of the 1898–1899 season at the Teatro de la Zarzuela. The work is an operetta that takes a critical look at the aftermath of a misguided war. Set in Zaragoza, the plot revolves around the interference by the local police sergeant in the love life of Pilar and Jesús. The sergeant attempts to convince each of the lovers that the other has married while Jesús was fighting against the Americans in Cuba so that the sergeant may wed Pilar. While the unvarnished portrait of a corrupt official would be unusual enough for an operetta, the work is most notable for its realistic portrayal of the repercussions of the crisis of 1898 onstage. Gigantes y cabezudos is both a satirical diagnosis and a clear articulation of Spain’s problems in the aftermath of the War of 1898; it also manages to encompass the regenerationist solutions that could heal the country. The zarzuela opens with a scene of tumult and turmoil: nothing short of a riot (accompanied by music, of course) is in progress. The women of Zaragoza have just been informed of the latest increase in food taxes and are furious. Such a scene had been duplicated many times over—sans music—in towns across Spain in the months before the premiere, and would continue well into the next year. The women sum up their contempt for the Spanish government in a couplet at the end of the opening chorus: “the marketplace has voted / and it has voted no.”1 This riot, like its counterparts in real life, featured the unrepresented in Spanish political life making their voices heard in the public sphere, replacing the nonrepresentative “voting” of the Restoration system with a “vote” that was more meaningful in practical terms.2 The opening scene of the zarzuela ends with the women attacking the municipal officers who turn up to enforce the new tax policy and a song that goes even further in Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 • 84 • its rejection of authority. The stage directions indicate that the chorus comes to the proscenium and sings the following chorus directly to the audience: Though we are weak we can be what men can’t, and when we look furious they are frightened and they will cede us the country . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . although the mayor may bring a cannon here, we will not be moved if we are unified.3 Although it would be going too far to read this as a call for the audiences to revolt against the Restoration régime, it is by far one of the most confrontational passages in zarzuela literature. And as if to reinforce the points made by this fictional riot, the scene closes with the couplet that reaffirms the rights of Spanish citizens to participate in their own government—“the marketplace has voted no.” Manuel Fernández Caballero uses his music to further this point. He makes extensive use of the jota, a traditional folk dance, in constructing his score. The score itself consists of six separate numbers, four of which are jotas. Since these four numbers are also the most complex numbers in the score (each except the last is broken down into two or three separately numbered sections), close to three-quarters of the music in the work is inspired by the jota. (As the reviewer for La Época laconically noted, “there is a plethora of jota here.”)4 More importantly, three of these four jotas are the numbers that transmit the political message of the zarzuela. The first jota is the opening scene that features the fight among the vendors and concludes with the chorus “the marketplace has voted. . . .” The second jota is a number in which the female vendors fantasize about how life would be if women ran the government— which concludes with the riot against the tax collectors. The third jota is less politically charged, but features a procession of gigantes that celebrates Aragón, the area of Spain in which the musical form originated. The final number, a religious procession (marked “Salve” in the score), is a straightforward choral piece—but even here Fernández Caballero cannot resist mixing in “the happy sounds of the jota.”5 While it had begun life as a...


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