The Zarzuela Companion
It is with great anticipation that I have been waiting for the arrival of this new book. After years of working as a conductor, coach and writer on zarzuela in the United States, I have felt the absence of a comprehensive guide to the genre written in English. Singers, producers, conductors and directors often need a reference book in order to answer questions about what zarzuela is, its composers, works and libretti. I myself have been relying on my own extensive collection of scores and libretti, as well as on such reference books as the old Diccionario de la Zarzuela by Alier, Aviñoa and Mata (Daimon).
Mr. Webber's book does a lot to fill this vacuum. It is greatly informative, concise, elegantly written and well presented. There are 23 chapters dedicated to the major composers, such as Francisco Asenjo Barbieri, Federico Moreno Torroba, Pablo Sorozábal and Tomás Bretón, and their major works. The synopses are clear, concise and insightful. Mr. Webber brings to the subject an understanding of other operatic genres, utilizing useful comparisons and references, as well as the view of an "outsider", whose cultural background and love of zarzuela allows him to make informed judgements on its intrinsic values.
The choice of major works is splendid. For example, the chapter on Moreno Torroba dedicates ample space to Luisa Fernanda and La chulapona, his best known and most often performed works, but still finds time to look at five of his other works, with one paragraph descriptions for each.
In addition, the introductory chapter on the history of zarzuela is concise, thorough and impeccable. Additional composers and their works are covered in two chapters titled "Nineteenth Century" and "Twentieth Century". Other insightful chapters are dedicated to Catalan Sarsuela, Cuban Zarzuela, and noted writers and singers of zarzuela. Three useful appendices cover a Select Discography, Bibliography and Glossary.
One of my very few minor qualms is what I consider Mr. Webber's optimistic vision of the present state of zarzuela in the U.S.A.: "Nowadays, many opera companies in the United States are starting to perform zarzuela regularly". If there is evidence for such an assertion I am not aware of it. One would wish the opera companies in the U.S. would have the same open mind, interest in Hispanic culture and dedication that Mr. Webber has. I hope that the circulation of The Zarzuela Companion in the U.S. will be a catalystic to increasing performances on this side of the Atlantic.
The value of this work for English speakers is incalculable. While I am a native Spanish speaker, I often found it hard to understand the poorly written synopses and biographies in the old books. This book is already parked on my desk, and will surely remain there for a long time. Bravo!, Mr. Webber, and keep up the good work.
© Pablo Zinger, NYC, 29 April 2003