Last Sunday, Hillsdale College French students took their language skills outside the classroom and into the opera house thanks to Hillsdale’s French honorary, Pi Delta Phi.
Nineteen students and three professors spent the day in Toledo, Ohio where they saw “Carmen,” a 19th century French opera that tells the story of a naive soldier who is seduced by a gypsy named Carmen.
“The purpose of the trip was to give students the unique opportunity to experience an event unavailable on campus and show them that French culture is present, alive, and well,” Marie-Claire Morellec, chair of Hillsdale’s French Department and organizer of the trip, said in an email.
Beyond gaining general cultural knowledge, however, Morellec added that seeing “Carmen” in particular was especially meaningful for some students.
“Several students had read the text on which the opera is based as part of their 19th century French literature class,” she said. “It just so happened that ‘Carmen’ was part of Toledo Opera’s program this year.”
For attendees like Soren Moody, a freshman majoring in French as a part of the international studies in business and foreign language degree, “Carmen” was their first encounter with opera.
Moody said he attended not just for the academic enrichment but also for the musical aspect.
“Madame Morellec started talking about the trip way back in the fall, and I flipped out about it,” Moody said. “Initially, that was because “Carmen” is part of French culture, and I’d never seen an opera. But then as the semester went on, I was in a voice class and my teacher brought out an operatic voice in me. This was an incredible opportunity to see two of my favorite things, opera and French, come together at a professional level. How could I pass that up?”
Sophomore Joy Brower, a French and economics double major, said she appreciated the chance to broaden her understanding of the language.
“The diction is very different in an opera,” Brower said. “They put the emphasis on different parts of the words. It was good experience to hear how French is pronounced out of the context of normal conversation.”
Pi Delta Phi hosts enrichment events every year, sometimes twice a year. Activities range from plays, to exhibits, to operas.
While members of the honorary receive priority, events are open to students in all classes.
“We would not be able to provide this opportunity to our students but for a wonderful donor, Mrs. Christine Smith, who created a fund to honor the memory of her mother, Mrs. Cecile Frazier Smith,” Morellec said. “Thanks to her generosity, we have been able to do this every year, sometimes twice a year, for over a decade.”
Brower spoke highly of the trip and encouraged others to attend in the future.
“I think anyone interested in French culture and language would definitely benefit from going to see ‘Carmen,’” she said. “It’s a great way to experience the culture outside of the experience you get in a classroom.”