A PLAY that empowers the appreciation of Filipino culture and values, and is packaged in a comical and musical style are what define the zarzuela.

The zarzuela is a beautiful art form of lyric theater drama incorporated with singing, dancing and dialogue. It is comical in nature.

What is great about a zarzuela is that it is a komedya or a comedy, meaning it portrays typical Filipino stories and realities in domestic and social relations, such as marriage and family, elections and feasts, vices and values, which the viewers can relate much in their lives.

The Filipino culture and values are uniquely formed by cross-cultures. Surprisingly, the zarzuela is of Spanish origin that was later considered as a Filipino stage play.

The zarzuela is one of the art forms of another country. It was transformed and became a part of our own culture.

According to Rachel Penn Adams, an American historian, the zarzuela emerged from

Spain’s long tradition of musical drama and dance.

The roots of the zarzuela can be found in the 12th century when religious dramas, known as autos, first combined poetry with instrumental music in Spain.

These autos—written in the vernacular instead of Latin as earlier medieval liturgical dramas—had been the first indication that Spanish musical theater was moving in the direction of lyric drama that was representative of the people.

The name of zarzuela was known to the people of Spain in the 17th century. In 1895, zarzuelas were clearly the dominant entertainment form of choice.

Based on the seventh volume of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia of

Philippine Art, the zarzuela was brought to Manila in 1879 with a performance of Jugar con fuego (Play with Fire) by the troupe of Dario de Cespedes; and the El barberillo de Lavapies (The Little Barber of Lavapies).

The complete Filipinization of the form came when the zarzuela unfolded topics that concern the Filipinos and written in the Filipino languages. Among the first zarzuelas that were recorded are: Budhing Nagpahamak, 1890; Ang Pagtabang ni San Miguel, 1899 by Norberto Romualdez, a Waray zarzuela; Ing Managpe, 1900 by Mariano Processo; Say Limanag Naketket, Pampinsionan, 1901 written in Pangasinan; and Maputiug Maitum, 1902 by Vicente Sotto, which was written in Cebuano.

Among the major zarzuelas of the Philippines, the most famous was Severino Reyes’ Walang Sugat, 1902. It is about lovers separated by the cruelty of friars and the revolution against Spain.

Several zarzuelas were staged at the 19th century of the peak of its popularity. Its popularity gave birth to the Arts Council of Cebu Foundation Inc. in August 1960. The council promotes and develops artistic and cultural endeavours in the Cebuano community by providing programs and scholarships in arts, culture and theater, which generates awareness and concern for the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Caridad D. Balicasan, Saint Theresa’s College (STC) museum’s person-in-charge, said that the zarzuelas that were produced in Cebu were mostly school-based. STC is a school known to produce several zarzuelas.

Among these were Hagit, 1900, directed by Al Santos; Mini, 1970; Kagahapon, 1974, performed by the STC and University of San Carlos (USC) Seminarian; Terana, 1975, directed by Delia Aliño-Villacastin and was also performed by the STC and USC Seminarian; Ang Bukid, 1977, also directed by Delia Villacastin; Juan Tamban, 1980; Walang Sugat, 1989, by Severino Reyes in Cebuano adaptation by Fulgencio Tolentino, and many others.

A zarzuela does not only introduce Filipino values to the young, but it also offers entertainment that is creatively presented. It can be appreciated by both the young and the old. However, the popularity of zarzuelas has declined over the years.

Nonetheless, Filipino zarzuelas are still around. Dalagang Bukid was staged in STC from Aug. 28-31 to celebrate Buwan ng Wika in August as well mark the school’s 80th anniversary. The stage play was directed by Delia Aliño-Villacastin, a renowned director in Cebu.

The Cebuano-spoken zarzuela has been the core of a value-filled entertainment in Cebu. Watching such plays opens the heart of the youth to appreciate the Filipino culture—and to love the Cebuano tongue.

“One has to watch a zarzuela play to see the true beauty of the zarzuela,” Villacastin said. Christell Marie B. Rosales