Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

“Wagner vs Puccini: Modernism and Opera in Spain... Just an Artistic Question?”

Enrique Encabo.

By the end of the 19th Century, Spain lives a cultural renaissance in accordance with the complex and hard age. That will be the time for great debates on the concept of “Nation”, specially through intellectuals such as Ortega y Gasset (founder of the Spanish magazine “Revista de Occidente”) or Eugeni D’Ors (who tried to find the real Catalonian nation versus the Spanish taking the Mediterranean sea as a symbol for a glorious past). Spanish composers are still following the dream of the creation of “Spanish national opera” and, with this objective, they look at the great figures of the time: Wagner and Puccini, but taking just one of the two as referent.
The main aim of this work is to show the actual reasons that brought composers to choose one or the other. When we talk about Wagner, we cannot think just in aesthetic terms: the Wagnerian movement was a really shocking phenomenon in Catalonia at the end of nineteenth-century right from its arrival to the moment when Barcelona becomes the second wagnerian city (after Bayreuth) with “Parsifal” première. We could study the question just regarding musical factors, but we cannot understand it without taking into account all the political and cultural ideas appearing in Barcelona at the moment. This we call with the generic name modernism. The Wagnerian movement was mainly urban (Barcelona), bourgeois and intellectual; “wagnerians” tried to regenerate the Catalonian nation with the people’s education through theater and endowing this of an ideology calling to nation-building aspirations in front of the rest of Spanish country. Germany (as a symbol of the North, Europe, progress) will be the referent for Catalonian intellectuals.
On the other hand, Spanish composers will try to renew the lyric theatre from “Zarzuela”. With this objective they will learn from “verismo”. They will choose the Italian movement for two reasons: first (strictly musical point of view) it was the impossibility of combining wagnerism and poor Spanish theatre; second, they thought the real Spanish nation was not in the North, but in the people, in the country. “Costumbrismo” (the day by day of country people) would be the only way to find the real national art.
Catalonian modernism and Spanish “costumbrismo” had the same aim: the regeneration of the country. These two movements, though, were intentionally different, not mixed at all. In Barcelona, intellectuals despised zarzuela and built a national mythology still alive today. The differences they built are the keys to understand our political situation nowadays; once again studying the past we find the answers for the future.


Enrique Encabo  (Spain)
PHD student
Department of Comparative Literature Faculty of Arts
Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona

Enrique Encabo (1979) starts his musicological studies attending to zarzuela situation in the south of Spain, in relationship with different literary movements. After that, goes to Barcelona where he finishes his Musicology studies with the highest final grades; nowadays he is finishing his thesis about fin-de-siècle in Spain, working in artistic direction department of Gran Teatre del Liceu and collaborating with the Comparative Studies department (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona). He has participated in numerous international congress, the last in Prague (“Cultural Conquests 1500-2000” September, 2003), with a conference titled “Modernism and fin-de-siecle: wagnerian movement in Catalonian nation-building”.

  • Musical movements according to political changes.
  • Catalonian nation-building and tensions with Spain.
  • European influences in Spanish cultural life.
  • Past showing future: Catalonian nationalism today.
Person as Subject
  • Wagner, Richard Puccini, Giacomo

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)