By Audrey Coleman


If you haven't experienced a zarzuela yet, treat yourself. No, zarzuela is not some tempting culinary concoction from south of the border. It is a delectable musical concoction with folk and operatic roots in Spain. And a sumptuous production of one of the most popular works of the genre, Luisa Fernanda, is gracing the stage of the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Hollywood February 19-21.

Now for Zarzuela 101: The zarzuela (pronounced zar zway'la) is a form of musical theater involving opera singers (This is FolkWorks-relevant, I promise!), but which features virtually equal parts spoken dialogue and singing. In this respect, it is closer to the operetta or the Broadway musical than to opera. It said to have originated in the 1640s when actors performed for King Philip IV in Madrid's El Prado Park.

According to legend, the art form was named for the blackberry bushes (zarzas) that grew amply in the park. Although the Italian and French opera styles influenced them to some degree, the musical comedies and melodramas in the zarzuela repertoire retained their distinct Spanish personality. By the early 20th century, zarzuela productions had become a populist form of entertainment, distinct from the opera performances attended by the upper classes and nobility. They reached their height of popularity in the 1920s and 30s at a time when the political content embedded in the libretti made them a rallying point for the masses.

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