A Night at the Opera: Double, Double Toil and Trouble

Dr. Eugene Galperin with his daughter overlooking the Delaware Water Gap. Photo Courtesy / Dr. Eugene Galperin
Dr. Eugene Galperin with his daughter overlooking the Delaware Water Gap. Photo Courtesy / Dr. Eugene Galperin
Dr. Eugene Galperin with his daughter overlooking the Delaware Water Gap.
Photo Courtesy / Dr. Eugene Galperin

By Briana Magistro
SC Staff Writer

Dr. Eugene Galperin, a professor in ESU’s math department, spoke on Wednesday, October 8 about opera and its influence in today’s society.

Dr. Galperin found this a good opportunity to speak because the Cinemark movie theatre in the Stroud Mall would be showing Giuseppe Verdi’s opera version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth on October 11 and 15.

Dr. Galperin became interested in opera when he would visit Vienna for conferences. “Although I never went to school in Austria, my Ph.D thesis advisor is Austrian, and I used to visit Vienna for conferences and workshops. Music is very much a part of life in Vienna,” Galperin stated.

His advisor, Karlheinz Grochenig, introduced him to opera while visiting. “I am almost as grateful to him for introducing me to opera as I am for advising me for my thesis.”

Dr. Galperin expressed how much he surprised himself when he fell in love with opera. He never thought as a student that he would ever like that type of music.

“The more people who get exposed to opera, the further that will help me carry out my cultural mission,” Galperin said.

He encourages all students to try it out, because you’ll never know what you may like until you try it. He is very adamant in supporting cultural development on campus, as well as in the community.

The lecture opened with the Greek ideal of music. “I had to go back 2,500 years, all the way to ancient Greece, to discuss the Greek ideal of music,” Galperin said.

He continued, “While the painters, the sculptors, and the architects during the 15th and 16th centuries had largely recovered the art of ancient Greece, the musicians had fallen beyond. They couldn’t really hear what the Greek music must have sounded like, but they could read what the Greeks had claimed. When music was joined with words, the emotional and dramatic meaning of the words was deepened one hundred fold.”

Throughout the discussion, we listened to many clips from various operas, including operas from the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, all of which demonstrated different types of musical displays. Some, like the first one listened to, did not show the Greek ideal of music, as it really did not connect the words with the music.

In Florence, at the end of the 16th century, the thinkers were concerned with expression in music. The father of the astronomer Galileo Galilee, Vincenzo Galileo, was a composer and musician at the time. He came up with a new theory about music. This theory developed into what we now call opera.

The Baroque Era presented operas that strived to meet the Greek ideal of music. A clip shown was based on a scene from the story of the Aeneid, in which Queen Dido calls out for Aeneas to never forget her.

Dr. Galperin said, “That clip was to demonstrate the emotional intensity and the exuberance that the high Baroque composers were able to achieve working in this new opera style. They were getting really good at getting the music to deepen the emotional and dramatic meaning of the words, which is the Greek ideal of music.”

Following this, Dr. Galperin went straight to the 19th century. At this time, music, especially in Italy, was purely for entertainment and was missing the emotional and dramatic elements that were part of the Greek ideal of music.

We listened to a bel canto style opera from the early 19th century, where a brother and sister were fighting over whom the sister should marry. The scene was intense and dramatic, but the point was to see whether or not the music contributed to the meaning of the words. Although the scene contained drama and great music, it did not connect the two. The Greek ideal of music was not reached in this clip.

This led the talk to discuss Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi was “deeply rooted in land and wanted music to speak directly to the hearts of people,” Galperin described. “He didn’t have much patience for decadence, which was so present in contemporary music.”

Verdi was born and raised in peasant country, so he was not wealthy while growing up. During his higher education of music in Italy, he decided to take a risk and try to make Shakespeare plays into dramatic operas. He wanted to achieve the Greek ideal of music, which hadn’t been reached in Italy.

Other composers attempted to transform Shakespeare into operas, but they never turned out well. Other operas of this time featured singers’ vocal displays, rather than drama.

“He never let any other tunes dominate the musical texture. It was the drama that came first for him, while the beautiful tunes came second,” Galperin stated.

Verdi’s Macbeth was a success in Italy. At the time, Italy was dominated by foreign powers. Verdi’s Macbeth contained many choruses that lifted the Italians’ spirits in hopes for independence.

“Verdi was very aware of it and wrote a lot of music that answered to that wanting for freedom,” Galperin commented.

As mentioned above, Macbeth brought Shakespeare into Italy. To the Italians, Shakespeare’s plays about witches and dark meanings were foreign.

An interesting underlying theme in Macbeth is that nothing is what it seems. “At the beginning, Macbeth was concerned with the issues of morality, but it is [he] who at the end of the play turned into a relentless butcher. Whereas, Lady Macbeth, who at first encouraged her husband to commit murder, was destroyed by her guilt. The witches’ prophesies were the opposite of what they sounded like,” Galperin said.

At the end of the play, Macbeth, the villain, is killed, and King Duncan’s oldest son becomes king. On the outside, it seems like the perfect ending. However, Macbeth had slaughtered all of the women and children, and warlords and thugs still ruled the land.

Galperin commented, “There is absolutely nothing to soften the medieval worried society. We may have some second thoughts on how the play ends.”

Shakespeare ended many of his plays in this way by encouraging the audience to think about what may happen next, but he gave no clues for them to go by. This is how Verdi leaves his version of Macbeth.

Other productions of Macbeth may give a hint as to what will happen next. In Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of Macbeth, King Duncan’s younger son approaches the witches to ask how he can take his brother’s crown.

Tonight’s presentation will be about Mozart. “Poor Mozart,” Galperin stated, “Most people have a completely mistaken understanding of Mozart.”

Mozart is one of the most famous classical artists. His music expresses a lot of emotion and airiness, which can make it easy to forget in this society.

“My main goal for the talk next Thursday is to discuss the incredibly deep emotional and dramatic insight that Mozart provides us in his works,” Galperin added.

His next talk will be tonight, October 16, at 7:30 PM in Stroud 117. If you can’t make it, try to attend Dr. Galperin’s talk on Carmen in November!

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