Puebla is that Mexican city made famous by the Cinco de Mayo, the temporary but devastating defeat of the invading French Imperial Army in 1862. One of Mexico's most splendid Spanish colonial cities, Puebla is strategically situated on the route inland from Veracruz; no power could rule from Mexico City without first controlling Puebla. The French did retake Puebla a year later, however, and then Mexico City; thus, only a year later than planned, by the spring of 1864, having been crowned Emperor and Empress of Mexico in Trieste, Maximilian and Carlota were en route.
The Second Empire has a rich and staggeringly diverse soundtrack (I've written up a full playlist, from Sawerthal to Chopin to French marching songs to nursery ditties, here), but European opera-- Verdi, Bellini, et al-- alien and modern as it must have sounded to so many Mexicans at the time, reigned supreme among the elite, favored as it was by Maximilian and his court.
From the back cover text of Margarita López Cano's book (and I will follow each paragraph with my translation for those of you who don't read Spanish):
A pesar de la guerra y los periodos de crísis, en la segunda mitad del convulso siglo XIX, y específicamente durante el llamado Segundo Imperio, la ópera cobró gran importancia dentro del contexto cultural. México llegó ser uno de los escenarios más importantes del continente americano en donde se presentaron las óperas de compositores italianos, franceses, alemanes, brasileños y mexicanos. El género llegó a ser un evento "obligado" dentro del protocolo de sucesos especiales y sus representaciones fueron imprescindibles para honrar a hombre destacados, dar la bienvenida a personajes importantes y conmemorar fecha y acontecimieintos relevantes.
[My translation: In spite of war and periods of crisis, in the second half of the tumultuous 19th century, and specifically the so-called Second Empire, opera took on great importance within the cultural context. Mexico became one of the most important venues on the American continent in which operas were presented by Italian, French, German, Brazilian and Mexican composers. The genre became a "must" event within the protocol of special events and its performances considered essential to honor outstanding men, offer a welcome to dignitaries, and to commemorate relevant dates and events.]
La ópera fue parte muy importante de la cultura de los poblanos en el Segundo Imperio. Las funciones operísticas fueron escenarios privilegiados donde la sociedad se clasificó jerárquicamente de acuerdo a su estatus socioeconómico y funcioné asimismo como un instrumento de identificación de preferencias, gustos, sensibilidades y percepciones. Asistir a una función de ópera constituyó una excelente ocasión para socializar de la clase elistista y refinada, una práctica erudita, como dice Michel de Certeau.
[My translation: Opera was a very important part of cultural life for Poblanos (residents of Puebla) during the Second Empire. Opera performances were an exclusive arena, where society was classified hierarchically in accord with socioeconomic status; they also served as an instrument by which people could express their identify by their preferences, tastes, sensibilities and perceptions. As Michel de Certeau says, for the elite and refined class, attending an opera, an erudite practice, constituted an excellent opportunity to socialize.]
En este libro, Margarita López Cano analiza la presencia de la ópera durante el imperio de Maximiliano en la urbe angelopolitana y nos brinda un cuadro vivo y aleccionador de la vida social y cultural de la época.
[My translation: In this book, Margarita López Cano analyzes the importance and nature of opera during Maximilian's empire in the greater Puebla metropolitan area and offers a vivid and instructive social and cultural portrait of the period.]
I was very fortunate to be able to attend the excellent presentation in Puebla on Monday, in which Professor López Cano played some video clips from operas by Verdi and Bellini. Though these were 20th century performances with stars such as Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland, they were nontheless examples of the very operas that had been performed in Imperial Puebla.
Two more examples I found on YouTube:
Song of Oscar in Verdi's "The Masked Ball"
Joan Sutherland in Bellini's "Norma"
A write-up of the book launch appeared in today's La Jornada.
P.S. Since 2001 Professor López Cano has hosted the radio show "Los secretos del canto" (Secrets of Song). Follow her on twitter @operaparatodos and her blog, Operaparatodos.
Next post next Tuesday.