The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
A novel based on the true story
HEREWITH A GRAB-BAG of international works.
How could it be otherwise with a novelbased
on the true story, by the wayabout a half-American Mexican
who, by means of a secret contract, was brought into the household
the Austrian-born Emperor of Mexico and his consort, Carlota
(daughter of the King of the Belgians and first cousin of Queen
Victoria), who had been installed upon the "cactus throne"
by a clique of Mexican conservatives, backed by the French Imperial
Army (augmented by Austrian and Belgian volunteers) and, by the
way, blessed by His Holiness the Pope of Rome? Um, got that?
The novel opens in antebellum Washington D.C., where the prince's parents, Miss Alice Green and Mr Angel de Iturbide, second son of Mexico's first Emperor, then serving as secretary of the Mexican Legation, met in the 1850s. A typical date in those days would have been to go hear the Marine Band play. Read about "Hail Columbia" over at the Library of Congress. Read an excerpt from the novel, about Alice and Angel's courtship, and why she agreed to go to Mexico.
This Mexican lullaby, probably from the 1850s and still in use in the 1890s, is what else? a playful take on a blood-soaked episode, the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846-48. Read the lyrics in Fanny Chambers Gooch's Face to Face with the Mexicans, the classic and elephantine compendium of late 19th century Mexican mores and manners, on-line. There are three different nannies in the novel; any one of them might have sung this lullaby to the baby. He was born in Mexico City in 1863. Here's his carte-de-visite, made circa 1865 when he was two years old.
A military song composed in 1863 for the French Foreign Legion, which fought in Mexico. Listen here. The French considered themselves, bien sûr, pretty tough stuff, which was why their defeat by the Mexicans at the city of Puebla a battle celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo was such a resounding humiliation. That didn't stop them, though. A year later, with reinforcements, the French took Puebla, then Mexico City, and brought over Maximilian.
This popular Viennese polka might have been played at one of the balls in Mexico City's Imperial Palace. Here's a link to an article by one of the guests, Overland Monthly correspondent William Wells, "A Court Ball in the Palace of Mexico." Few could resist the powerful glamor of the Imperial Court at its apogee. An invitation to an Imperial Ball was coveted, relished. Poor star-struck Alice.
A mazurka, by J.D.R. Sawerthal, a Czech composer and band-leader who came to Mexico with Maximilian. Along with waltzes by Strauss, Sawerthal often conducted his own compositions at Imperial entertainments.
a habanera by Spanish composer Sebastián Iradier is the most famous song
associated with the Emperor Maximilian
supposedly his favorite. There's a German documentary film about
it, which you can read about here.
For the lyrics to
"Adiós Mamá Carlota," the Mexican protest
song sung to the tune of "La Paloma," click
Impromptu in G Flat Major
Franz Schubert's piano music might have been just
the thing to soothe jangled nerves as the French begin to evacuate
and Maximilian's empire totters. In the penultimate chapter,
after a tense tea-party (with terribly weak tea and not enough
raisin cake) Mrs.
an American resident in Mexico City, asks her young daughter
Sara to play some Schubert. That same Sara is the author as Sara
Yorke Stevenson of Maximilian
in Mexico: A Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention
published in 1897. The first woman to receive an honorary degree
from the University of Pennsylvania, Sara Yorke Stevenson enjoyed
some fame in her lifetime as a leading Egyptologist, newspaper
columnist, and suffragette.
This beautiful work of baroque Mexican sacred music is on Chanticleer's Mexican Baroque: Music from New Spain, an album I often played while writing the novel. Zumaya, a mestizo born in Mexico around 1678, became Chapel Master to the Mexico City Cathedral, and composed the first opera in the Americas. The Mexico City Cathedral plays a recurring role in the novel. Its nave is ringed by cage-like barred chapels, one of which dedicated to the first Mexican saint, Felipe de Jesus, whose martyrdom in Nagasaki is illustrated in gruesome detail holds both the golden throne and mortal remains of "The Liberator," the Emperor Iturbide, who was executed by firing squad in 1824.
Oh, the lusciousness of Italian opera! Plácido Domingo was not the first Mexican opera star; back then, the Mexican "nightingale," soprano Angela Peralta, made her debut in Milan's La Scala and shortly thereafter, in 1865, returned to Mexico to perform before Maximilian and Carlota. A contemporary of Adelina Patti, Peralta became an instant favorite with the Court, though she was, according to one of Maximilian's senior officers, Count von Khevenhuller, "obese to the point of deformity." After the fall of the empire, Peralta's career suffered a steep decline. Along with most of her troupe, she died of the dreaded yellow fever in Guaymas, a port on the Sea of Cortez, in 1883. She was only 40 years of age. Read her New York Times obituary.
The "mad scene" from this opera, based on the novel The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott, would make the perfect soundtrack for the novel's chapter "Night in the Eternal City," about the Empress Carlota's pychotic breakdown in the Vatican.
Born in Italy
at the beginning of the 18th century, Jerusalem arrived in New Spain when
he was about thirty years old. A virtuoso violinist and composer,
he served as Chapel Master to the Mexico City Cathedral for twenty
years. This work is on another gorgeous Chanticleer album, Matins
for the Virgin of Guadalupe.
reanimation of a crucial period in Mexican history should satisfy
history buffs and those in the mood for an engaging story brimming
with majestic ambition.
-- Publisher's Weekly
"a swashbuckling, riotous good time, befitting the fairy-tale promise of the opening sentence"
-- Austin American-Statesman
"Mayos cultural insights are first-rate, and the glittering, doomed regime comes to life"
-- Library Journal
"I have read a few sweeping historical novels that have remain inside of me forever. Tolstoy's War and Peace is one of those, Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities is another, Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago is another, and now The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is another."
-- Mexico Connect
Musical notes clip art courtesy of www.webweaver.nu