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The Zarzuela Companion
by
Christopher Webber

Scarecrow Press Inc
ISBN 0-8108-4447-8
hardback, 341pp,
£34.00

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Scarecrow Press Inc.
4720 Boston Way
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fax 717-794-3803



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For non-Spanish speakers the world of zarzuela (Hispanic opera-operetta with spoken dialogue) is a closed one. I came to this book as an intrigued visitor rather than a convinced Zarzuela aficionado. My interest was piqued years ago by the Zarzuela LPs listed in Gramex, Henry Stave and Harold Moores adverts in Gramophone. I sometimes wonder whether a large part of the interest of Gramophone in years gone by was the esoterica listed on those pages.

Zarzuela can be viewed as the Iberian counterpart to the Viennese operetta, the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition and the Broadway musical. This book is essentially a reference guide to the lives and principal zarzuelas of 22 Spanish composers with separate 'mopping up' chapters for the zarzuela tradition in the 19th century and 20th century, as well as in Catalonia and Cuba. Leading writers and singers in the genre are profiled in two separate chapters. There is a select discography as well as a bibliography and an extremely valuable glossary as well as a brief history of the genre. The 12 page index makes this an even more practical aid to the researcher and the enthusiast.

I suspect that this is the first English language book to tackle the subject and it does so agreeably and with every appearance of diligence. Its virtues make this a firm basis for the extension of zarzuela beyond the Hispanic world.

The composers accorded their own chapter are Alonso, Arrieta, Barbieri, Bretón, Chapí, Chueca, Caballero, Gaztambide, Giménez, Guerrero, Guridi, Lleó, Luna, Millán, Torroba, Penella, Serrano, Sorozábal, Soutullo, Vert, Torregrosa, Usandizaga and Vives. A few of these names (Guridi, Chapí, Breton, Usandizaga, Sorozabal, Vives, Torroba) are likely to be familiar to the general classical music lover but most are unknowns or they were until this book came along. There are no portraits of the composers.

I rather missed Chris Webber telling us about how he was drawn into this arcane world. The passionate quest and the disappointments and discoveries are a dimension I had hoped for. I also missed a quick and personal guide to the best recordings by which to enter this world and perhaps a list of retailers, web addresses and sources. Also why is the URL for the author's outstanding website (www.nashwan.demon.co.uk) tucked away on page xii?

There is a decorous and personable foreword by Plácido Domingo in which he addresses the genre as well as giving us a personal introduction to the history of his parents as leading Zarzuela practitioners.

The dustjacket, designed by the author, is extremely well done. Its scorched orange and flame hints at both the passionate world of the Zarzuela and the colours of the Spanish flag.

This is the English language guide to Zarzuela. It sits very happily next to the Grove Opera and the New Penguin Opera Guide and need not blush in that company. Its value is as a reliable and apparently thorough reference work. Despite my gripe about things that are missing what is there is the key to an enclosed garden that promises pleasures and a lifetime's pursuit. Very happily recommended if you are at all curious about the Zarzuela world.

Rob Barnett

 



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