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• 165 • Finale Popular Music and Popular Nationalism The early 1930s were something of an Indian summer for the genre of zarzuela. A few works were resisting the lure of kitsch and trying to capture the nature of modern Spanish life during the 1930s. Librettists Francisco Ramos de Castro and Anselmo Carreño wrote two major pieces that attempted to move the sainete into the twentieth century. The 1934 zarzuela La del manojo de rosas (The Girl with the Bunch of Roses) features a romance between an automobile mechanic and a female florist. The following year’s racier Me llaman presumida (They Call Me Vain) has not only women who drink openly in Madrid bars, but a pair of male photographers who take . . . “artistic” shots of young ladies. Adding to the modernity of the work is the fact that the climax takes place at a public defense drill for a gas attack. Francisco Alonso’s music betrays his background in writing for revues. Saxophones are used prominently in the orchestration, and many of the musical numbers were clearly designed for popular airplay on the radio. These were zarzuelas that were attempting to engage with and portray modern life, as the genre had during the 1880s and 1890s. But many more zarzuelas were attempting to ignore the gathering turmoil . (This was hardly unique to Spain. It wasn’t as if Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were grappling with the reality of the Great Depression or Italian Fascism when traveling to Venice in Top Hat.) Federico Moreno Torroba, Francisco Alonso, and Pablo Sorozábal, the composers who dominated the period, created highly melodic scores indebted to the escapist heritage of operetta . Sorozábal’s first major hit, 1931’s Katiuska, was an operetta set in the Ukraine after the Bolshevik Revolution. The plot of Russian aristocrats fleeing the Red Army might have seemed topical in interwar Europe, but with a story seemingly lifted out of Alexandre Dumas—including a second-act revelation that the humble peasant Katiuska is the daughter of a disguised Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 • 166 • nobleman—any political topicality was submerged in romantic bathos. Soroz ábal would similarly disguise the topicality of a plot built around cocaine smuggling with lushly escapist music in La tabernera del puerto (The Harbor Barmaid), which premiered on 6 April 1936 and had the distinction of being the last hit zarzuela to premiere before the outbreak of the Civil War. Other works gleefully delved into anachronism, such as Moreno Torroba’s 1934 revival of the sainete in La chulapona. This work, with its virtually untranslatable title (a chulapona is Madrid’s female equivalent to the London Cockney, lower-class but savvy and street-smart), is set in 1893 Madrid and has as many mazurkas, pasacalles, and Chinese shawls as La Revoltosa or La verbena de la Paloma. Heard on recordings or seen in revival today, the zarzuelas of the 1930s are glorious examples of what Spanish composers could do with musical theater forms. But placed within the larger context of the history of zarzuela, they are flies embedded in amber, remote and isolated from the wider world around them. They ignored the increasing social and political turmoil that was engulfing Spain in the years preceding the Spanish Civil War. That political turmoil had been set in motion by the collapse of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, and with it the last vestiges of the Restoration political system. On 26 January 1930, Miguel Primo de Rivera resigned his position as prime minister and fled Spain. In the previous two years he had lost the confidence of King Alfonso XIII and the Spanish Army, his main pillars of support . The attempt to create a “parenthesis” in order to reform the Restoration political system had failed, and Alfonso assumed control of the Spanish government by appointing General Dámaso Berenguer to take his place. Berenguer was meant to be a tool of the monarch, who had wanted to take direct control of the Spanish political system for some time. But few Spaniards were deceived by this maneuver. Berenguer’s short heyday was referred to as the dictablanda or the “soft dictatorship,” a play on the Spanish word for dictatorship , dictadura—“dura” in Spanish means “hard.” But the failure to restore liberal parliamentary democracy undermined the legitimacy of Alfonso XIII’s right to rule. He had ignored the growing political power and impatience of Spain’s urban working class. In municipal elections held in...


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