Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Spanish Lyric Theater in the Eighteenth Century


John Dowling


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

"Does Spanish opera exist?" asked Antonio Peña y Goñi in 1881. His answer was emphatic: "Spanish opera does not exist; Spanish opera has never existed."1 More than three centuries after fully-sung Spanish operas were first performed, Peña's challenge is still argued; more than a century after he asked the question and notwithstanding Spain's rich history of lyric theater, it remains unresolved. Much depends on definition. For those who define opera as wholly sung, Spain offers rare examples. Like Peña, Emilio Cotarelo y Mori maintained, in his Historia de la zarzuela, that the national opera of Spain is the zarzuela, a play, serious or comic, which combines spoken dialogue with lyric passages that are sung.2 More recently, and from the perspective of our times, Xavier de la Calle has expanded this definition. The words and the music, he has written, should be so coupled one to the other that the music is rigorously faithful to the text in meaning, form, and aesthetic intent. Ideally, he adds (for reasons that will become evident), the zarzuela should be in two acts.3

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