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Subject: Re: Spanish opera
From: Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 20 Dec 2017 16:35:58 -0500

text/plain (85 lines)

Dear Idia and List:

I don’t know whether Idia’s definition of “Spanish opera” includes “zarzuelas.”  I am 
assuming that it does, because the vast majority of of Spanish musical theatre pieces 
consists of “zarzuelas,” which, like French “opéra-comiques,” include quite a bit of spoken 
dialogue.  As Wikipedia puts it, “early [Spanish] operas, however, failed to catch the 
imagination of the Spanish public. It was not until the increasing popularity of such genres 
as ballad opera and opéra-comique that opera in Spain started to gain momentum, since 
the use of speech in the vernacular inevitably encouraged Spanish composers to develop 
their own national style of opera: zarzuela.”

Some twenty years ago, at the urging of Plácido Domingo, who was its Artistic Director at 
the time, The Washington Opera staged a couple of zarzuelas, in which I was privileged to 
be a super : “El Gato Montés” by Manuel Penella and “Doña Francisquita” by Amedeo Vives.  
Wikipedia actually classifies a“El Gato Montés” as an opera, but Domingo and TWO referrred 
to it as a zarzuela, so who knows. A few years ago I saw a performance of the zarzuela 
“Luisa Fernanda” by Federico Moreno Torroba at the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes in 
Mexico City (the opera house boasts a terrific stained-glass stage curtain by Louis Comfort 
Tiffany, which I believe is the only one of its kind in the world.)

“El Gato Montés” includes the world-famous “paso doble” which in the popular imagination 
is always invariably linked to bullfights.  It can be heard at .  A full performance of “Doña 
Francisquita” (Gran Teatro del Liceo, Barcelona, 1987, with Alfredo Kraus) can be seen at

I enjoyed all three of these zarzuelas/opera tremendously.  Of the three, I liked “Doña 
Francisquita” best on account of the smashing tunes and gay (as in merry) and colorful 
dancing numbers it was filled with.  I actually was given a couple of spoken lines in it on 
account of my skill in foreign languages, so I was actually paid as an artist (as opposed to 
super) and had to join AGMA (the American Guild of Musical Artists) in order to be allowed 
to fill the position.  I am still a paid-up member of AGMA and that membership card is one 
of my proudest possessions.

In my view, all three of these works provide a far more enjoyable evening of musical 
theatre than all the “Dead Man Walkings” and “Death of Klinghoffers” that opera managers 
insist on shoving down our throats.

This view, unfortunately, was not shared by most TWO (Washington Opera) subscribers, 
many of whom bitterly complained to TWO management (I understand some people actually 
cancelled their subscriptions).  “Doña Francisquita,” in particular, came in for particular 
invective and abuse  because many people felt there was far too much Spanish dialogue 
(even though there were surtitles).

I also feel there was an undercurrent of racism underpinning some of the criticism.  As one 
bejeweled and becoiffed matron told me at a social function, “I don’t pay all that money to 
listen to a third-class opera in my maid’s language.”  I heard other similar comments from 

Why is it that so many English speakers have such a negative view of Spain, a beautiful 
country of warm, artistic people with a great culture ?  The Spanish Inquisition was 
centuries ago, and Spain has been a democracy for 50 years now.

I guess the TWO Board listened to the criticism because I do not recall that any zarzuela 
was ever performed by TWO/WNO after “Doña Francisquita.”

I hope the above is responsive to Idia’s question.

Cheers and all the best,


Alain Letort
Washington, D.C.
Des Ungeheuers Höhle

On Wed, 20 Dec 2017 12:18:11 -0500, Idia Legray <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>I know there are some wonderful Spanish composers and a few fine operas 
>as well but why is there such a dearth of  top 10 popular operas by Spanish 
>composers and performances in major venues?

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