The Gringo’s, er, Dummy’s Guide to zarzuela

By Lawrence A. Johnson

This weekend offers a unique opportunity to experience a musical form that is indigenous  to Spanish culture but remains as distant and mystifying to most non-Latin classical audiences as Cervantes’ source material.

  Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, one can hear some of Miami’s finest Latin singers in a well-rounded program of zarzuela at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Among the artists is Elizabeth Caballero—Mimi in last season’s FGO La Boheme— Sandra Lopez, Susana Diaz, Mabel Ledo, Nelson Martinez, and others. The event is being presented by the Concert Association of Florida.


 Manny Perez (above) is putting together this event. We asked Perez—one of Miami’s finest vocal coaches, whose students include Eglise Gutierrez, Elaine Alvarez, and Caballero—to talk about zarzuela and these concerts.

 How did this event come about?

 Al Milano contacted me to let me know that he was going to bring a company from Spain to do Zarzuela in Miami, and I told him he didn’t need to do that –  that we had great talent here in Miami that performs internationally.  We met with Carlos and Marta Ligia Lopez Cantera, who became the sponsors of this event, and everything was approved.   The idea was born and I, as the director of the show, began to put the pieces of this intricate puzzle together. 

  Is Spanish operetta a fair description of zarzuela?

  Yes, because of the singing and spoken dialogue, and because it includes elements of popular tradition. 

  Talk about the origins of zarzuela.

 Zarzuela is a Spanish theatrical genre characterized by a mixture of singing and spoken dialogue.  Throughout its history, the zarzuela has included elements from the Spanish popular tradition.

It originated in the 17th Century with the musical court plays intended for performance at the royal hunting lodge or palace of the Zarzuela outside of Madrid.  (Zarza is literally a bramble bush)

  Who are the principal zarzuela composers and what are the main zarzuelas people should know and might investigate to get an idea of the genre? 

 From  Spain: Francisco Barbieri – El Barberillo de Lavapiés; Tomas Bretón – La Verbena de la Paloma; Ruperto Chapí – La Revoltosa; Guerrero – Los Gavilanes; Pablo Solorazabal – La Tabernera del Puerto; Amadeo Vives – Doña Francisquita; Federico Moreno Torroba – Luisa Fernanda. From Cuba: Ernesto Lecuona – Maria la O and El Cafetal and Gonzalo Roig – Cecilia Valdes.

 What will we be hearing at these two concerts?

We want to give our audience a taste of the best these genres have to offer.  Zarzuela, although it is a more popular genre, is closely linked to the italian operatic tradition, with regard to its emphasis on lyric vocal melodies and rich orchestrations.  Even though it’s a lighter genre, zarzuela is rooted in the classical vocal tradition.  The singers will tell you that these arias are every bit as challenging as operatic arias.  Domingo, Carreras, Caballe, and other prominent Hispanic operatic singers have presented zarzuela in recital and recording.

The program is the same for both performances, and is made up of overtures, arias, duets and choruses from both Spanish and Cuban zarzuela – a “greatest hits” anthology, if you will.  These varied musical numbers will be presented outside the dramatic context of their scenes – that is to say, without staging or costuming – but instead, to focus on the sheer beauty and excitement of the singer and the music they are presenting. 

People familiar with zarzuela’s melodies will recognize  De españa vengo from El Niño Judio, No puede ser from La Taberna del Puerto, and the coloratura showpiece Me llaman la primorosa from El barbero de Sevilla,”for example.  The flirtateous duet Caballero del alto plumero and Ay, mi morena from Luisa Fernanda.  To mention only some numbers is like choosing a favorite child…each of the selections are jewels of the repertoire and are equally important.

Zarzuela Tonight! will be presented 8 p.m. Saurday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, Miami. Tickets are $45-$76, but half price if you mention Manny Perez’s name (seriously). 305-808-7446;

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One Response to “The Gringo’s, er, Dummy’s Guide to zarzuela”

  1. Posted Jan 19, 2009 at 11:57 pm by Members of the Florida Symphony

    The Members of the Miami Pops/Florida Symphony who dutifully participated in this performance have not been compensated the The Concert Association of Florida. This performance, which the musicians took part in with great effort, have been waiting for fair compensation for over one month. This is unfair to the performers.

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Sat Dec 20, 2008
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