Ten years ago, Chad M. Gasta stumbled upon a newspaper story in Spain about the discovery of a couple of previously-unknown operas composed around 1700 in South America. At the time, he was working on an article about the first Spanish opera from 1660 that later made its way to Lima, Peru, where it became the first opera in the New World. He put aside the news blurb about the opera discovery, but found the unfamiliar topic so interesting that several years later he decided to write a book about it.
That book, “Transatlantic Arias: Early Opera in Spain in the New World,” was published late last year, becoming the third book published in 2013 for Gasta, professor and Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. The book also covers the topic Gasta will discuss during the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Lecture on October 30, "Manipulating Culture after the Conquest: The First Operas in the New World." (Read more about the event below.)
Gasta said he could never have envisioned three books published in one year.
“I had no idea this would be in my future,” Gasta said. “Getting a book published is so hard these days, and even harder in the humanities.”
His first book was a critical edition of “La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades,” or roughly translated as “The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and Of His Fortunes and Adversities,” which was a critical edition of the world’s first picaresque novel and a seminal book for Spanish undergraduates.
The book was originally written by an anonymous author in 1554 in Spain and tells the story about an orphaned boy who learns to survive by trickery. Along the way, the reader learns about the difficulties of living in imperial Spain and the boy’s viewpoint serves as a reflection on his life in a society plagued by economic and social problems.
Gasta’s edition developed after seeing his students struggle with their comprehension of the sixteenth-century Spanish utilized in the book, which often is used in the curriculum of advanced Spanish classes across the country. The edition started as a class group project. Later, he added annotations and a learning guide as a learning tool for students studying Spanish at the college level.
Gasta’s second book, “Imperial Stagings: Empire and Ideology in Transatlantic Theater of Early Modern Spain and the New World,” focuses on four different dramatists and how their theatrical works impacted Spain and the New World.
In the seventeenth century, theater was a very popular form of mass entertainment, just as it was in England. Though constantly dealing with official censorship, Spanish playwrights questioned authority and imperialism by creating subtle messages though their art, which subversively challenged prevailing views on the economy, society, and religion.
Gasta said these literary reflections on the society offer unique insights, exposing bits of history we wouldn’t otherwise know.
His third book, “Transatlantic Arias: Early Opera in Spain and the New World,” is a short history of early opera in Spain and the New World during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The book then highlights the three first operas in the new world, and reveals the lengths and limits of Spanish influence in Peru and Bolivia.
In the former Jesuit missions of South America, more than 15,000 sheets of music were discovered during a restoration project of the nearly forgotten mission churches. The restoration project of the missions, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage site, unearthed previously unknown musical pieces, many of which were written in the native language of the people, and later translated into Spanish by the Jesuit priests. Among the pieces was an opera written by an unknown indigenous composer in Chiquitano language and likely performed by Indian singers.
“The operas and other musical works were written by the indigenous people in their own language, which upends the notion that the Spanish language was forcibly used in all areas after the Spanish conquest. Furthermore, until recently, no one even knew that these pieces existed, let alone that the there was an indigenous musical culture so rich and complex that it could match that of the great musical centers of Europe,” Gasta said.
Gasta said he is thrilled that his three books were published, and is grateful for the validation of his hard work. His research on early opera is significant, and is poised to change the way we look at the history and musical and literary culture in one part of the world.
Be sure to attend the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Lecture, featuring guest speaker, Chad M .Gasta:
"Manipulating Culture after the Conquest: The First Operas in the New World" Thursday, Oct. 30 8 p.m. Sun Room, Memorial Union
About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.
NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University
Contacts: Chad M. Gasta, Professor and Chair, Department of World Languages and Cultures, (515) 294-0918 (email@example.com) Jess Guess, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-9906 (firstname.lastname@example.org)