Diccionario de la Zarzuela (ICCMU)

Diccionario de la Zarzuela
España e Hispanoamérica (II - H á Z)

Emilio Casares Rodicio
María Luz González Peña, Oliva García Balboa
Judith Ortega et. al.

ICCMU, 2003. 1084 pp, hardback,
48.00 Euros. ISBN 84-89457-23-9

A year on from the publication of Volume I, and ICCMU’s Diccionario de la Zarzuela is complete. For range, erudition and writing quality Volume II is on a par with the consistent standard established by its predecessor. We have the same mixture of articles, of varied length and substance, on a host of composers, writers, performers, directors and entrepreneurs; on technical terms and dance forms – Ramón Sobrino’s article on Tango is particularly stimulating. We have entries on sub-genres, and intersecting forms such as Operetta – one of many notable contributions from editor-in-chief Emilio Casares Rodicio; and full synopses and commentaries on a host of works, ranging from Baroque zarzuelas by the likes of Durón and de Nebra through to the post-war works of Sorozábal. Bibliographies, discographies, and full lists of composers’ works provide the referential base. Hundreds of photographs, some in colour but most in sepia half-tint, provide a valuable visual counterpoint.

As before the immense variety and quality of the genre comes across more strongly than ever before in print. Volume II is de rigeur for anyone seriously interested in zarzuela, and any questions arising should be taken with that firmly in mind. This is the Diccionario de la Zarzuela España & Hispanoamérica, for sure; and the space allotted to matters transatlantic is generous, particularly when it comes to zarzuela cubana. Catalan sarsuela also features strongly, and quite right too: but a little imp keeps whispering that maybe breadth has been too much preferred over depth, at least when it comes to deciding which mainstream Castilian zarzuelas on the fringe of the repertoire are to be omitted, or at what length they deserve discussion.

Some of the synopses (e.g. Los de Aragon) are skimpy. The unknown 19th century repertoire is very heavily favoured over the known 20th (nine zarzuelas by Oudrid covered in depth, only two by Millán). It is refreshing to find six of the Catalan Enric Morera’s works discussed at length, even more so to find the great Cuban Ernesto Lecuona similarly well treated; but do only four of Federico Moreno Torroba’s zarzuelas really merit full articles? And why has his Xuanon been preferred over María Manuela, Monte Carmelo, La caramba, or – most strikingly – Maravilla? This latter is the source of maybe the most beloved of all baritone romanzas in the repertoire (“Amor vida de mi vida”) yet is mentioned only in passing towards the end of its composer's biography.

Indeed poor Moreno Torroba emerges as the main 20th century casualty. That less space is devoted to him than to his great rival Pablo Sorozábal might well be justifiable on musical and artistic grounds, but when even Reveriano Soutullo and Enric Morera are allotted a higher word count questions must be asked! As it happens, the Sorozábal entry is particularly comprehensive; so it’s even more disappointing that its author Javier Suárez-Pajares was given less room to expand on Torroba’s considerably larger output. Even in Sorozábal’s case, it’s surprising to find that Los Burladores, his thought-provoking version of the Don Juan story, misses out on full treatment, as do La isla de las perlas, Entre Sevilla y Triana and Las de Caín.

More damaging is the editorial decision to exclude full treatments of such well-known works as Don Gil de Alcalá, Las Golondrinas and – yes – Marina (!), presumably on the grounds that these are through-written operas. Fair enough, although the first is undoubtedly part of the zarzuela repertoire, whilst the others started life as true zarzuelas with spoken dialogue. These zarzuela versions proved at least as influential at the time as the later, arguably inferior operatic inflations – though admittedly the through-written scores are preferred in performance today. The waters are muddied further when we find that Vives’ beautiful, through-written Maruxa is included, and that Don Gil’s composer Penella is perversely represented only by one work – the much inferior opera El gato montes! His memorably tuneful Las musas latinas, regularly touted for revival at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, is another questionable omission.

If it seems unkind as well as frustrating for the pre-eminent reference work to exclude Marina, second-rate Italianate Opera though it may be, the number of lesser-known 19th century works which is does include remains impressive, and the scholarship is impeccable throughout – though Luis G. Iberni’s otherwise excellent article on La viejecita omits any reference to the great English farce Charley's Aunt which provided the plot and most of the characters for Echegaray’s sparkling libretto; and at this date must the fiction of Rafael Millán’s early “parálisis” – tragically, he had a complete mental breakdown at the age of 30 – be allowed to persist in a major work of reference?

There are a sprinkling of mistakes in the lists of works (I believe Torroba wrote El cantar del organillo, not La canción del organillo) and the bibliographies (the present author’s name and book are misspelled after Casares Rodicio’s fine keynote article on Zarzuela itself!). As in Volume I, the discographies are too often partial, flawed or wrong. The outstanding LP version of Moros y Cristianos (in good stereo, with Angeles Chamorro and Carlo del Monte) is omitted, as are all the Aria and many Homokord CD reissues of music otherwise unavailable. La marcha de Cadiz’s discography is allotted to the wrong Valverde, Joaquín Snr. instead of ‘Quinito’. Last time the great tenor Alfredo Kraus had a recording of Don Manolito mistakenly attributed to him, this time it’s La del manojo de rosas – twice (both in his own article and in the Sorozábal discography … bring him on again!)

Having said which, there’s so much to enjoy and absorb here that the criticisms remain irritants rather than serious flaws. Certainly let’s hope that the Diccionario sells well enough for some of the errors and omissions to be rectified in a well-merited second edition, and that sooner rather than later. As for the look of the new volume, its blue cover may contrast with the original claret, but in all other essentials the stylish design matches its predecessor. The readability and attractive layout of the pair set new standards for zarzuela’s fast-growing bibliography. They are a joy to browse and handle, quite aside from the priceless contents. At 48 Euros – eight more than Volume I, but I suppose that’s inflation for you – this has to be the book bargain of the year.

© Christopher Webber, 2004

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