Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ópera y vida cotidiana en la Puebla Imperial, a new book by Margarita López Cano

Professor of history and opera expert Margarita López Cano has just brought out a fascinating new book, Ópera y vida cotidiana en la Puebla Imperial ("Opera and Daily Life in Imperial Puebla"), co-published by CONACULTA and the Secretary of Culture of the State of Puebla, as part of the "Colección Bicentenario 2010."

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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Matías Romero's Visit to Springfield in 1861

Mexican and U.S. history interlace in so many complex and surprising ways. Just this morning, while perusing the New York Times on my iPad, I happened upon "Lincoln's Mexican Visitor" by Willam Moss Wilson, about President Juárez's ambassador, Matías Romero, and his visit to President-elect Lincoln in 1861.

"Matias Romero arrived in Springfield, Ill. on the evening of Jan. 18, 1861. Though late in the day, he figured it would be easy to find a room in this sleepy midwestern town. But there were no rooms available at his first choice, the American Hotel, or anywhere else: all the hotels in town were full of friends, patronage seekers and the merely curious who had come to meet President-elect Lincoln... " READ MORE
To give you a little perspective, should you require it, 1861 was but a decade and a bit beyond the end of the US-Mexican War, in which Mexico lost vast swaths of its territory. Anyone who was or who intended to rule Mexico had to take into account the still voracious and increasingly powerful neighbor to its north. This was precisely the time when Louis Napoleon was beginning to cobble together the scheme that turned into the so-called "Mexican Expedition" and, with the blessing of the Catholic Church and a not-so-small group of Mexican monarchists, the placement-- in 1864-- of Maximilian von Habsburg upon the Mexican throne.

So: 1861. Matías Romero travels to Springfield. This was no small journey. It was a very savvy political investment, and in making it, Juárez may well have established a solid foundation for later successes, in no small part with the help of the post-Civil War United States, against the Mexican Empire.

William Moss Wilson's is a fascinating article, well worth reading.

P.S. One of the key figures working against the Mexican Empire, and for the reinstatement of the Mexican Republic, was John Bigelow, who served as U.S. Minister to France during and for a brief time after the U.S. Civil War. (He also happened to play a role in the story of "prince" Agustín de Iturbide y Green's American mother's attempts to get her son back from Maximilian--- the subject of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which is based closely on the true story.) Bigelow's papers, in the Mansucripts Division of the New York Public Library, are an invaluable resource for anyone interested in this period. Bigelow took meticulous note of his meetings with Louis Napoleon, Drouyn de Lhuys (the French Foreign Minister), Dr Evans (the American dentist who played go-between), and E. Gould Buffum, the Paris correspondent for the NY Herald, among others. And of course, there are copies of
Bigelow's official correspondence with Secretary of State Seward, as well.

As for Matías Romero's magnificent archive: it is at the Banco de México in Mexico City and can be consulted upon request. Click here for a PDF document by archivist Guadalupe Monroy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Resuming Next Week... Happy 2011

This blog will resume next Tuesday. It's been an extra long holiday... Good wishes for 2011!

Meanwhile, if you're happening upon this blog for the first time, be sure to check out the Maximilian page, with many links to on-line articles and books, photos, bibliographies, and much more.


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