Zarzuela is a form of theatrical music or stage musical genre that emerged in Spain that is distinguished mainly by containing instrumental parts, vocal parts (solos, duets, choirs…) and spoken parts, although there are exceptions in which the latter, the spoken parts, are completely absent. The term zarzuela, applied to the musical and theatrical genre, comes from the Palacio de la Zarzuela, a Spanish royal palace located near Madrid and where the theater that hosted the first performances of the genre was located.
In such a reductive and erroneous way, zarzuela has been assimilated to operetta, a genre of French origin, mainly because it contains spoken or declaimed parts, thus pretending that zarzuela is the Spanish operetta. But the zarzuela is historically much earlier and that characteristic was already found in other European genres, also long before the operetta and not necessarily before the zarzuela. Actually, in this sense, the zarzuela would be more like the Spanish equivalent of the French opéra-comique or the German singspiel. These genres from France and the Germanic world are characterized by producing theatrical and musical performances in which, unlike opera proper, music is alternated with spoken or recited parts. Mozart’s The Magic Flute, for example, is not an opera but a singspiel, and therefore it makes as much sense to say that the zarzuela is the Spanish operetta as it does to say that the singspiel is the Viennese zarzuela.
In spite of everything, there have been zarzuelas of the great genre that, because they do not have spoken parts, are similar to the French grand opéra or the Italian serious opera. Therefore, the zarzuela would be defined in a more appropriate and simpler way, as the properly Hispanic lyrical and scenic art, because although it was born in Spain, shortly after its appearance it spread to almost the entire Hispanic world.