Monday, July 13, 2015

An Esperanto Opera in Chicago

Open wide and say
Well they both couldn’t be the fifth United States Esperanto congress, and really this is a question of the Chicago Daily Tribune making a small but important error in their article of July 13, 1914. The fifth United States Esperanto congress had been held in Boston in July 1912. I am slowly building a list of these, as I hit references to specific conferences.

Let’s put this in context: on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated, throwing Europe into crisis, but the war hadn’t started yet. The tenth Universala Kongreso was still being planned for Paris. And the 1914 congress of the Esperanto Association of North America was planned for Chicago. For its prospective attendees, the troubles of Europe were somewhat irrelevant. Finally, the Esperanto Association of North America had held a conference every year since 1908 (the conference at which it was founded). 1914 was the seventh.

Still, the Tribune manages to squeeze two errors into the very first sentence of their article. That takes some work. Not the fifth, but the seventh. Not the “American Esperanto Society,” but the Esperanto Association of North America.

Opera “Galatea” Will Be Rendered in World Language when 200 Delegates Meet in Chicago.
The fifth annual congress of the American Esperanto society will be held in Chicago the week of July 20. The society headquarters will be in the Hotel Sherman, but the place of meeting for the 200 delegates has not been decided.

The feature of the week will be the opera, “Galatea,” which will be given July 23, in the Y. M. C. A. auditorium entirely in Esperanto. This will be the first time that such a thing has been attempted in this country.

Efforts will be made to introduce Esperanto into the public school system as a substitute for Latin. This has proven to be successful in Europe. It is said that 3,500,000 people are able to read and write Esperanto. The language can be learned in about two months.

The commercial use of the language will be told of by Dr. B. K. Simonek, the head of the local Esperanto office, who has written over 600 letters in Esperanto for business firms in Chicago in the last year.
The opera in question was The Lovely Galatea by Franz von Suppé, in a translation by A. D. Schefer (about whom I can find nothing else). The Music News (of Chicago) gave the opera a favorable review in its July 31, 1914 issue, noting also that the two-act opera was just part of an evening of musical entertainment.
The staging of the opera for the most part was beautiful, and the singing as well as the acting of the four principals was very good and showed that much time and study had been put in on preparation for a performance.
The estimate given of the number of people who could speak Esperanto in 1914 isn’t given any source (probably Dr. Simonek). It’s hard to tell how accurate any of these early estimates are, only that they are greatly in excess of any lists of Esperanto speakers up to the era. Let’s just say it’s doubtful. In 1907 the Deutsche Correspondent estimated the number of Esperantists at 1.5 million.

The leader of the Chicago Esperantists was a dentist, Bedrock K. Simonek. Dr. Simonek was born in the Bohemian region of what is now the Czech Republic. Simon was born on January 31, 1871, so when the conference occurred, he was forty-three years old. We can hope that his services writing letters in Esperanto (about two a day!) didn’t cut too heavily into his dental practice. Dr. Simonek died at the age 62 in 1933.
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