Learning about the outsider’s view of zarzuela is always most stimulating for the Spanish reader. Surely then we should welcome the recent publication of this collective work, edited by Professors Max Doppelbauer and Kathrin Sartingen from the University of Vienna, which has its origin in the 6th Section of the XVII Congreso de la Asociación Alemana de Hispanistas at the University of Tübingen, in March 2009.
Reading the articles – for this is not a book of academic abstracts – reflects, at least, ardent activity over days of intense reflection concerning one of the major features on the Hispanic scene: marginalized people. We have here fifteen texts of which five are focused on the field of zarzuela, the other ten on film (why not a more equal balance?) In both cases attention is paid to the Hispano-American world; of particular interest in the case of zarzuela, in view of the small amount of research concerning our cousin, the Cuban zarzuela. The Editors propose a dual object for this publication: to study the role of marginal social groups in zarzuela and film, and to examine if there exists a change of tone, voice or representation in both these popular media.
For obvious reasons of space I will focus on commenting on those texts dealing with zarzuela, but not before leaving on record my pleasant surprise reading the articles about film, which looked in great depth at topics diverse as the “housewife movies” of Almodóvar, delinquent movies from the eighties, and the gallery of grotesques in the films of Alex de la Iglesia. In the case of zarzuela – with obviously less “edgy” themes – the issues raised were more disparate in scope, though undoubtedly interrelated.
I must admit that the texts written by the non-Hispanic contributors are at a fantastic level, their lucidity based on a solidly interdisciplinary and post-modern approach. In this regard the contribution by Enrique Banús is extremely disappointing, very routine and not related at all to the ambitious title he offered [“La Gran Vía–civic protest?”]. At the other extreme lies Agnes Model’s, which offers a very thought-provoking socio-cultural essay concerning the fin-de-siècle lyric sainete. And 1900, precisely, is the starting date for the paper by our colleague Christopher Webber on a subject still so very little studied, the zarzuela in the first decade of the twentieth century. His starting point, focusing on the boldly political and revulsive functions of the negro, the Alcalde and the beatas in Las bribonas by Rafael Calleja, allows him to create an intelligent discourse – with a very surprising ending, when he turns to José Serrano’s popular zarzuela La Dolorosa ¹.
In line with perspectives of gender are the texts of Max Doppelbauer, on the presence of the gypsy in Spanish lyric theatre; and Susan Thomas, on Cuban zarzuela’s mulatas (young mulatto heroines) and negros trágicos. The former, despite setting out from a philological position, soon turns his spotlight onto sensational zarzuelas such as La chavala, La tempranica and especially La verbena de la Paloma – memorably, indeed, in the final sentence of his essay ². Finally, the Susan Thomas’s text focuses on Ernesto Lecuona’s zarzuela María La O, and the role played by the mulataand the new sense of the “tragic negro”, in what has become for me the most suggestive text on Cuban zarzuela written for a long time. [ed. c.f. our review of Thomas’s book Zarzuela Cubana]
© Enrique Mejías García 2011
¹“La bribona – the fallen woman – has been elevated to the level of the Mother of God.”
²“Perhaps we find in the work of Thomas Breton and Ricardo de la Vega an unconscious desire: the gypsy sings, but she is invisible.”
Los medios de comunicación
populares y su traducción de la voz marginal (Kathrin Sartingen / Max
15 March 2011