Friday, November 4, 2011

The Village Soothsayer

Yesterday contained one of the biggest treats of the semester for me: a class trip for my Rousseau course. We headed off to the Green Performing Arts Center across campus for a program focused on Rousseau's opera, Le Devin du Village (The Village Soothsayer).

Yes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famous political philosopher (The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, The Social Contract) and educational theorist (Emile), who also happened to write the best-selling novel of the eighteenth century (Julie, or the New Heloise), was also a composer of some renown in his own time, who wrote not only the libretto but the score for an opera that was the toast of Paris upon its production in 1752. The king reportedly went around the palace singing the opening aria, "J'ai perdu mon serviteur," all day after the performance "in the vilest voice in the nation" and offered Rousseau a lifelong pension for its creation (an offer that Rousseau refused).

Yesterday my students and I, as well as other interested DePauw community members, had our opera extravaganza in the Thompson Recital Hall at the Green Center for the Performing Arts. I made some introductory remarks on Rousseau-as-musician; Misti Shaw of the Music Library presented a fascinating in-depth look at the war between French and Italian opera during the time period (Rousseau took the side of the Italians and was burned in effigy by the Paris Opera); Prof. Matthew Balensuela discussed Rousseau's influence on child prodigy Mozart, who wrote his own treatment of the opera (at age twelve, mind you!). And, biggest treat of all, Prof. Caroline Smith's voice students performed three of the arias for us, including the one that so pleased the king.

I think my students enjoyed it as much as I did. Who doesn't love a class trip? Thank you, colleagues and performers, for making this amazing outing possible.

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