By Janice Tieperman
SC Staff Writer
While many young children were swarming about ESU’s campus for treats on Wednesday, October 29, many young adults were treated with an extravagant display of knowledge presented by Professor Eugene Galperin.
Following in the footsteps of his previous lecture from early October on “The Marriage of Figaro,” this most recent discussion on well-renowned operas took a different turn.
Instead of focusing on a generally light-hearted, comedic production, Galperin led his audience into the history and culture of one of the most popular operas in the world—Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”
The story centers on a Spanish soldier by the name of Don Jose, a decent man with a girlfriend and strong familial ties. He is sent to guard a prisoner named Carmen, who is very efficiently able to seduce him and to escape.
This “prison break” of sorts leads Jose into a downward spiral. He goes to prison (which he escapes) and pursues a life with Carmen.
After eventually being rejected by her for another man, he spins out of control and kills her. Basically, it is a dramatic (and slightly murderous) spin on the boy-meets-girl tale that we are all very familiar with.
Of course, no opera production can truly be amounted to a mere summary, which Galperin keenly taught as he revealed many of the complexities of Spanish culture and just how impressive it was that a Frenchman like Bizet was able to harness them.
“Musicians were seeking to capture the sounds of the newly acquired colonial territories,” Galperin explained. And this music, as the professor would soon reveal, came from a cultural cocktail that may even put America’s melting pot to shame.
“Three thousand years ago the Iberian Peninsula (the region where Spain is located) was inhabited by a mish-mash of Celtic and Iberian tribes,” Galperin said.
This later led to the rule of the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, and finally, the Moors.
How such a long list of conquerors equates to a tragic opera may seem confusing, but the answers are revealed in culture.
The rule of the Moors essentially turned Spain into an Islamic state, which was called Al Andalus.
While this region made many economic leaps and bounds, it also created a uniquely open and culturally- welcoming area.
“Islamic Spain was the only place in medieval Europe where large communities of Muslims, Jews, and Christians were living side-by-side without conflict,” Galperin pointed out, “That’s what Spain is about—amazing diversity. And we see that especially in the music.”
This music was strong with Middle-eastern, North African, Giten, Aztec, and West African influence.
It is what makes Spain such a rare gem in the global scheme of culture—the fact that its music is so impossibly brilliant and complex.
This being said, the composers who grasped the Spanish music often weren’t even from the native country, as Galperin revealed. Bizet, being a Frenchman, was a prominent example of this, as shown with some of the beautiful and original rhythms of the opera, some of which Galperin played for the audience.
One of these pieces, the “Gypsy Dance,” featured some of Spain’s well-known flamenco song and dance.
“We might have been better off dancing flamenco as opposed to rock and roll,” Galperin joked as he began to wrap up his presentation.
There was most definitely a bittersweet feeling among the audience members as Galperin revealed this to be his last lecture for the semester; however, don’t despair!
In a previous interview I had with the professor, he mentioned some plans of more lectures to come in the next semester.
Whether you love opera, have attended the lectures, or just want to see what it’s all about, an opportunity is heading your way: Stroud Mall Cinemark Theater is presenting a live presentation of “Carmen” on November 6 at 6:30 PM.
In the meantime, we will be eagerly awaiting the encore of Galperin’s operatic evening lectures.
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