Zarzuela in honor of World Theater Day

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picture of theatrical show at the Cuban Club Theatre
A show at the Cuban Club Theater. Robertson and Fresh Collection of Tampa Photographs. USF Libraries Digital Collections.

USF Libraries’ Special Collections is home to many different types of physical items and ephemera. From books and journals to newspapers, yearbooks, sheet music, and plays, the collections are vast and varied. One item type that is not widely highlighted is the zarzuela. Zarzuelas are Spanish lyric drama’s that alternate between spoken and sung scenes accompanied by dance numbers (“Zarzuela,” 2022).  The genre was originally conceived as a royal entertainment, taking its name from a favored hunting lodge of King Phillip IV, where such amusements were often staged (“Zarzuela:  Spanish musical play,” 2018).  The subject matter of zarzuelas range from stories of Greco-Roman mythology to tails of modern life; the music included vocal ensemble numbers, lyrical solos or romanzas, pieces in the Italian operatic style, and folk music and dance (“Zarzuela:  Spanish musical play,” 2018).

The older, earliest style of zarzuela, called Baroque, was created between the mid 17th to mid 18th centuries.  When the genre was revived in the 1850s with the creation of the Sociedad Artistica del Teatro-Circo, a new Romantic style emerged.  From this romantic style came two types or subgenres:  género grande, or grand zarzuela in three acts that could last four hours, and the later género chico, a shorter, one to two act zarzuela that found success as ‘theatre of an hour” (“Zarzuela:  Spanish musical play,” 2018;“Zarzuela,” 2022).

An example advertisement for a zarzuela By Narciso Méndez Bringa – (1897-10-16). “Zarzuela” Blanco y Negro (337). ISSN 0006-4572., Public Domain,

For most of this time, zarzuelas were the popular form of entertainment. They did not include social criticism.  Instead, through embracing popular customs, manners of speech, and traditions, the zarzuela embraced and enforced the status quo.  This changed slightly in the 1900s when a ‘low genre’ type of zarzuela, the género ínfimo, which included social commentary, was developed just before the Spanish Civil War brought a final decline to the zarzuela’s popularity (“Zarzuela,” 2022).

The zarzuelas digitized by the USF Libraries, and many more available in Special Collections’ Centro Astriano de Tampa and Cuban Club Records Collections, are from the género chico subgenre and consist of one or two acts.  All published in Madrid between 1870 and 1900, they highlight authors and composers that were famous in their day.  Both La gallina ciega : zarzuela cómica en dos actos y en prosa and Dos canarios de café : zarzuela cómica en un acto y en prosa were written by Miguel Ramos Carrión with music by Frenandez Cabllero.  In addition to a successful career as a playwright of romanticism, Miguel Ramos Carrión founded the satirical weekly Las Disciplinas (“Miguel Ramos Carrión,” 2022).  He was extremely productive, with about 20 titles to his name, and was able to adapt his style easily between the género grande and the género chico (Manzanares, 2000).  La gallina ciega is one of his most well-known works.

Don Mariano Pina Dominguez authored El milagro de la vírgen, zarzuela en tres actos y cinco cuadros, en prosa & verso with music by Don Ruperto Chapí  and Sensitiva : juguete cómico-lírico en dos actos with music by Don Rafael Aceves.   Mariano Pina Dominguez was known to collaborate with the best composers, writing (or plagiarizing)_ operettas, comedies, dramas, and some serious works.  Though he began by studying law, Dominguez was known to be a flagrant plagiarist and copied from French works, adding very little of his own creation to plays where he simply changed the title (“Mariano Pina Dominguez,” 2022).

The way that popular customs, manners of speech, and traditions were captured and preserved in zarzuelas makes them a fascinating snapshot of Spanish culture at the turn of the last century.  This culture was shared by groups all over the world, including Spain, the Philippines, and Cuba. Even here in Tampa, Florida, zarzuelas were arranged and performed for Spanish and Cuban immigrants by the mutual aid societies of Ybor City.




  1. “Manuel Fernandez Caballero” (2022) Wikipedia ES.
  2. “Mariano Pina Dominguez” (2022) Wikipedia ES.
  3. Manzanares, P. G. & Webber, C. (2000) Miguel Ramos Carrión.
  4. “Miguel Ramos Carrión”  (2022) Wikipedia ES.
  5. “Zarzuela” (2022) Wikipedia.
  6. “Zarzuela:  Spanish musical play” (2018) Encyclopedia Britannica.


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