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Federico Moreno Torroba's 'Luisa Fernanda'

It's not surprising that tenor Placido Domingo was born into a musical family, or that both his parents were highly accomplished singers. But what may be surprising is that neither parent was, strictly speaking, an opera singer.

Domingo was born in Spain, though his family moved to Mexico when he was boy, and both his mother and father were popular performers in a uniquely Spanish form of entertainment called zarzuela.

Many western musical traditions include a form of musical theater with lighter stories than opera. They also feature significant passages of spoken dialogue. In the English speaking world, it's often called operetta — think Gilbert and Sullivan or Victor Herbert. In France, the traditional term is opera comique. And in Spain, it's zarzuela, which has little or no dialogue that's set to music, instead leaning heavily on formal, musical numbers — songs, ensembles, choruses and dances.

Zarzuela dates back to the 17th century, when it took its name from a place where it was often performed — a hunting lodge owned by King Philip IV. The genre has had many heydays since then, not least the first half of the 20th century, when one of its leading composers was Federico Moreno Torroba.

On World of Opera, Placido Domingo returns to his family's roots to star in Moreno Torroba's influential zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, composed in 1932 and set against the revolutionary struggles in Madrid in the 1900s. Host Lisa Simeone brings us a production by the Washington National Opera, from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

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