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Zarzuela : or lyric theatre as consumer nationalism in Spain, 1874-1930


This study examines how notions of national identity were developed and disseminated in Spain through the use of lyric theatre during the period of the Bourbon Restoration. Spanish light opera---zarzuela---was not only a popular manifestation of the intellectual project to create a unified sense of national identity; it also provided a mechanism by which the Spanish people could articulate the changes to that identity caused by the pressures of modernization. Furthermore, by aligning its sense of nationalism with the project of mass political mobilization, zarzuela created the distinction between elite and popular culture in Spain. From the 1850s onwards, zarzuela positioned itself as a nationalist genre of lyric theatre through the use of Spanish folk music in its scores and the use of the Spanish people as the protagonists of its plots. Zarzuela also articulated a sense that Spanish nationalism was a popular project; to this end, the genre contrasted itself with opera, which was characterized as something foreign and elitist. Having established itself as a nationalist and populist genre by the 1890s, zarzuela was than able to portray the changing nature of Spain's national identity due to the country's industrialization and urbanization. The populist nature of the genre led to a sense that Spanish nationalism was built in opposition to the corrupt Restoration government; this linked zarzuela to the regenerationist movement that sought to reform government and society in the early years of the twentieth century. The link with regenerationism, however, increasingly placed zarzuela into the category of elite culture. This meant that by the 1920s, zarzuela had lost its position as a mobilizing and a nationalist force. The study of zarzuela is crucial for understanding not only how the elite-driven project of nationalism was communicated to the people it was meant to nationalize; it also demonstrates how those people were able to critique and otherwise participate in the nationalization project through the simple means of buying tickets. Zarzuela also demonstrates the crucial role that nationalism had in creating modern definitions of popular and elite culture. Even a frivolous form of music can have serious political potential

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