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Zarzuela (Spanish pronunciation: [θarˈθwela]) is a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance. The name derives from a Royal hunting lodge, the Palacio de la Zarzuela near Madrid, where this type of entertainment was first presented to the court.

There are two main forms of zarzuela: Baroque zarzuela (c.1630–1750), the earliest style, and Romantic zarzuela (c.1850–1950), which can be further divided into two. Main sub-genres are género grande and género chico, although other sub-divisions exist.

Zarzuela spread to the Spanish colonies, and many Hispanic countries – notably Cuba – developed their own traditions. There is also a strong tradition in the Philippines where it is also known as zarzuelta.[1] Other regional and linguistic variants in Spain includes the Basque zartzuela and the Catalan sarsuela.

A masque-like musical theatre had existed in Spain since the time of Juan del Encina. The zarzuela genre was innovative in giving a dramatic function to the musical numbers, which were integrated into the argument of the work. Dances and choruses were incorporated as well as solo and ensemble numbers, all to orchestral accompaniment.


Baroque zarzuela

In 1657 at the Royal Palace of El Pardo, King Philip IV of Spain, Queen Mariana and their court attended the first performance of a new comedy by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, with music by Juan Hidalgo de Polanco. El Laurel de Apolo (The Laurels of Apollo) traditionally symbolises the birth of a new musical genre which had become known as La Zarzuela. The genre was named after the Palacio de la Zarzuela, one of the King's hunting lodges, situated in a remote countryside thick with zarzas or brambles, in what is now El Pardo.

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