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What is Zarzuela?

Zarzuela is Spain and Latin America's version of operetta. It is Spanish musical theater, and it is a lyric-dramatic form of music that switches between the spoken word and song. Zarzuela mixes elements of opera, dance and popular music. The genre started in Spain (specifically in Madrid) but later spread to Latin American countries, specifically Cuba. Cuba in particular added their own traditions to develop their own style of Zarzuela.


Zarzuela's beginnings were during King Felipe IV's reign. King Felipe IV and his court would attend the Real Sitio del Pardo which was called "La Zarzuela." The name originated from the word "zarza," which literally means "blackberry bush." Blackberry bushes surrounded the building. In La Zarzuela's royal halls, singers sang, comedians performed their acts and music was performed, all for the King and his court.


There are two main types of Zarzuela, which are Baroque Zarzuela and Romantic Zarzuela. Baroque Zarzuela came first, having been popular between 1630 and 1750. Romantic Zarzuela was popular between 1850 and 1950. These two main types can be further divided into two more subdivisions; genero chico and genero grande.


Zarzuela is a very exciting form of musical theater. Some of the main characteristics and features of Zarzuela include songs, choruses, spoken passages and dances. A lot of times Zarzuela's subject matter revolves around heroic or mythological topics. Often times, Zarzuela is very quick-witted and satirical.

Time Frame

Zarzuela first began in the 1600s and had a period of popularity. However, Zarzuela declined towards the latter end of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was the time period when Italian opera was rising and becoming more popular. However, towards the middle of the nineteenth century, Zarzuela experienced a rebirth and came back in the form of popular music plays. The newer Zarzuela implemented folk music, dance and improvisation and had normal characters from everyday life.


Some famous Zarzuelas are El barberillo de Lavapiés, Dona Francisquita, La fiesta de San Antón, La Gran Via and Luisa Fernanda. Some well known Zarzuela composers include Federico Chueca, Joaquín Valverde and Amadeo Vives. Most of these Zarzuelas and composers are from Spain, as that's where the genre originated. However, Cuba has a lot of exciting Zarzuelas as well, such as Amalia Batista, Cecilia Valdes and Rosa la China.

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