Saturday, March 26, 2016

MARCH 26 = Egypt, Israel Sign Peace Treaty

On today's date, March 26 in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty ending over thirty years of unremitting hostility and warfare between those two nations.  The treaty was the first ever between an Arab state and the Jewish state - each state extending full diplomatic relations with the other. And there has been nothing like it since. While Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the whole problem of how to recognize the Palestinian people remains as difficult now as it ever was.  But still it is worth remembering that time when peace in that part of the world seemed to be real possibility.

Sadat Visits Israel and Things Change

Things really changed in November of 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (right) made a state visit to Jerusalem, and spoke before a
session of Israel's parliament, the Knesset. It had been a huge surprise for the world when Sadat announced he was going to do this. He had spoken of the idea, and on Nov. 16 of 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin invited him to Jerusalem.  Sadat was determined to go through with the idea, despite intense criticism in the Arab world: "'I intend to go to the Israelis' den to tell them the truth,' Sadat told a group of visiting U.S. congressmen. 'I consider this trip as a sacred duty and this vicious circle we are turning around in . . . has to be broken.'" So in a fast moving chain of events the Egyptian president was in Jerusalem a few days later on Nov. 19.

Eventually Sadat and Begin Meet at Camp David

Still it took many months of negotiation between the two leaders to make it happen.  United States President Jimmy Carter threw himself into the process time and again to keep the momentum for peace going. He invited the two leaders to the Presidential retreat at Camp David,
Maryland for intense secret negotiations on a framework to address the many outstanding issues between the two governments in September of 1978. Due in large part to President Carter's personal commitment to the process, the negotiations which frequently seemed on the point of demise were successful, resulting in the Camp David Accords which the two men signed on September 17, 1978 (above).  This agreement led directly to the final Peace Treaty which was signed on today's date.

Israel and Egypt End Their 30 Year War

"Israel and Egypt formally ended a generation of warfare Monday in a solemn ceremony beneath the winter-striped, age-gnarled trees on the north lawn of the White House." went the front page article of the Cincinnati Enquirer the next morning by Warren D. Wheat beneath a headline reading: "Hope, Hostility Surround Signing Of Treaty"  The article continued, emphasizing the risks the two men were taking; "Carillons chimed softly in the background in mystic contrast to shouts of protest from angry Arab students corralled by police in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue. A bright, early spring sun provided a warm relief from a chill March wind blowing in from the northeast."
This very colorful account was intersper- sed with reports  of angry reaction to what was viewed in much of the Arab world as a sell-out by Sadat to the ultimate mortal enemy, Israel. Reports from Beirut, Cairo, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere detailing the violent reaction to this treaty punctuated the account of the Treaty ceremony itself.  Clearly those who would move so boldly to make this peace treaty work faced violent opposition.

"Peace has come..."

The words of President Carter emphasized this danger, and the strength of those willing to take such bold risk as these two men were taking to counter the anger of those who opposed them: "Peace has come... Let those who would shatter peace, who would callously spill blood, be aware that we three and all others who may join us will vigorously wage peace." These words sound highly idealistic to us now with so much of the violence that has come since. They are indeed idealistic. But the treaty's main points of normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel, and Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula were indeed kept. And the two countries remain at peace. But Anwar Sadat would be assassinated by fundamentalist Muslim army officers while reviewing a military parade on Oct. 6, 1981.  And the peace process which the three leaders tried to begin has long since
become hopelessly bogged down.  But I felt that it was worth a few minutes of our time to remember this moment when everything seemed possible.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

MARCH 3 = Bizet's Opera "Carmen" Premieres

"dull and obscure ... the ear grows weary of waiting for the cadence that never comes."

- Léon Escudier in L'Art Musical

On today's date in 1875, Georges Bizet's brilliant opera "Carmen" premiered in Paris.  And the above comment by Escudier is just one of the barbs that were thrown at the work. It was deemed to be much too risque' and totally inappropriate for public consumption with its tails of love, seduction, and murder. Its main star performer was accused of an immoral performance. Unfortunately, the composer would die only a short time after this raucous premiere. Today of course, Carmen is looked on as one of the most popular Operas ever written and is the source of some very familiar tunes.

Bizet is Commissioned to Compose "Carmen"

 Born in 1838, Georges Bizet (below) was an up and coming young composer when in 1872, he was commissioned to write a three-act opera based on a short novel called "Carmen" by the writer Prosper Mérimée’. He began the music in 1873, but the management of the 
Opéra-Comique was worried that this story was too salacious for their wholesome venue with the head of the that theater pressuring Bizet for re-writes, out of fear for the financial wreck that might occur if the opera failed. Because of this. the work on Carmen was put on hold. Bizet worked instead on a work he hoped to produce at Opéra, but this work was halted when the Opéra burned to the ground in October of 1873. Then in 1874, one of the members of the Opéra-Comique who opposed the "risque'" content of Carmen resigned, opening the path for Bizet to finish his work on Carmen.  This he happilly did, and Carmen was completed that summer.

The Lurid Plot of Carmen

The controversy that arose from Carmen's premiere all came from its plot, which was taken from Mérimée's 1845 book.  In Bizet’s operatic version, Carmen is a beautiful and free-spirited young gypsy girl who works at a cigarette factory in Seville, Spain, wherein she arouses the notice and affections of a corporal in the Army named Don José. Although he is already engaged to marry the sweet, guileless country girl Micaëla, Don José is of course seduced by the the lovely and exotic
Carmen in Act I.  In Act II, he helps her her escape from the police. In Act III Don Jose' deserts from the army and gets himself mixed up in a smuggling plot over his lover. In Act IV (left), Carmen spurns Don José in favor of a handsome bullfighter named Escamillo. This, of course brings about a fit of jealous rage in the throws of which Don José fatally stabs Carmen outside the bullring in Seville. The opera contains some of the most popular tunes of operatic history, such as the "Habanera" and the "Toreador Song", so it was not without melody and brilliant orchestration. But that plot... the first three acts were not so bad for audiences of the day, but this last bit involving desertion and murder were considered by many to be entirely too much for a decent venue.

The Reaction to "Carmen"

This bloody story-line caused an uproar with the critics and within the management of the Opéra-Comique, for which more "family-friendly" plots had previously been the norm. The mezzo-soprano, Galli-Marié who played Carmen (below), had her performance denounced by one critic as "the very incarnation of vice". This was a truly tragic story
which was a tough matter for the audience. And moreover, the heroine's scandalous behavior was a major shock for many audience members. The opera did decent enough business, but it was not the huge winner which Bizet had been hoping for. Nevertheless many of Bizet's fellow composers admired "Carmen".  Tchaikowsky wrote "Carmen is a masterpiece in every sense of the word ... one of those rare creations which expresses the efforts of a whole musical epoch" And following the debut, Jules Massenet wrote to Bizet; "How happy you must be at this time—it's a great success!". Sadly however, Bizet himself did not live to see the success that "Carmen" would become. It was believed that Bizet was just unable to put the controversy behind himself, causing a depressed mood in the young composer which lead to his death. He died on June 3 of that very year at the young age of 36. Many felt that the stress of the whole "Carmen" experience had contributed to his early demise. This is something which can never be finally determined. But what can be said is that "Carmen" has since become one of the most beloved and popular operas ever written. And it is certainly too bad that Bizet didn't live to see this final result of his work.

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