Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Magical Hour

Here is a magical way to spend an hour. It is how I spent the luncheon hour yesterday, in a celebration of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's opera Le Devin du Village (The Village Soothsayer).

11:30 Greet students, staff, faculty, and friends arriving at the Thompson Recital Hall in the Green Center for the Performing Arts

11:35 Welcome the attendees. Share a few delectable tidbits from Rousseau's autobiographical Confessions to show his early, extremely unpromising aspirations as a musician, for example, how he renamed himself Vaussore de Villeneuve and hired himself out as music teacher and composer although he could barely read a line of music. (Yes, this is true.)

11:40 Hear a fascinating presentation from music librarian Misti Shaw about the the 18th century war between partisans of French opera (grand spectacle of historical and Biblical dramas) versus Italian opera (everyday people singing of their everyday lives with simple, affecting melodies). Rousseau was so much on the side of Italian opera that members of the French opera burned him in effigy.

11:50 Hear another fascinating presentation from music historian Prof. Matthew Balensuela on the influence of Rousseau's opera on the young Mozart, who modeled one of his first operatic attempts on a parody of Le Devin du Village and whose natural musical gifts resonated with Rousseau's concept of natural man.

11:55 Behold the voice students of Prof. Caroline Smith taking the stage! Julie Strauser opens with the first aria sung by shepherdess Colette, "J'ai perdu tout bonheur" ("I have lost all my happiness!"), the piece that so delighted the king of France that he was heard the next day, as he was being shaved, singing it with" the vilest voice in the kingdom." Tenor Blake Beckemeyer joins her in a duet between the unhappy lovers, shepherd and shepherdess. Commanding baritone Yazid Pierce Gray performs the role of the soothsayer, able to make all right between the estranged beloveds.

12:15 Performance completed! Sustained applause from the enraptured audience.

12:20-12:30 Collect compliments on the unsurpassed delightfulness of it all. And compliment myself for having been the one to make it be.

I love being at this little college where an event like this is possible and actually took place yesterday exactly as I just described it. Thank you, colleagues and singers, for joining me in making this happen.

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