By César Octavio Moreno Zayas
The famous soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, one of the first big opera stars to put her voice on a record, visited México at the beginning of the 20th century. Her tour comprised the capital and many other cities, all the presentations had huge success; she was even labeled as the Florentine Nightingale and the New Patti. Her tour also included the city of Morelia, capital of the state of Michoacán, la Tetrazzini wrote in her biography, My life song (1922), that “the Town of Morelia is a veritable paradise” because she was fully and positively shocked by the beauty of the baroque city.
The repertoire selected for her exploration in Michoacan’s lands had the famous Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Giuseppe Verdi’s masterwork La Traviata, Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini, and the, by them, popular title of Dinorah, composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer. Everything was nicely settled, but order and a complain came from religious groups of the city, which said that just Lucia was possible to be performed. La Tetrazzini argued extensively, and after long dialogues, enriched with her wit, the operas were performed. Nevertheless, some modifications were needed. For example, Dinorah, a story of passion and love about a girl who became mad because her fiancé disappeared the day of her wedding, turned to be called The Pardon of the Virgin and promoted it as a Biblical opera.
Fortunately, the cautious attitude towards opera that the famous singer found has changed into a much more friendly interest. A good example of the positive diversion is the now successful International Summer Opera Festival of Morelia (ISOFOM). It is an educational, artistic program, which aims to provide high-quality artistic events, but also to be an educational project that helps emerging artists to improve, as well as to launch their careers internationally. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Juan del Bosco, General Executive Director and founder of the festival. He provided me with interesting information about the opera-doing of the festival. The project, which is part of a larger and ambitious one, aims to establish on the regular basis an educational program that enables international, as well as Mexican singers to learn different aspects of opera-doing at the highest standards, such as masterclasses with singers, language coaching and acting skills. Young artists have the opportunity to get a plus in their career via learning from international professionals.
The ISOFOM’s activities integrate local artists, e.g. its orchestra is formed by local musicians of Morelia, as well as an international team. The Faculty, as it is called the educational program, integrates this year: Felipe Tristan (Music Director and Conductor), A. Scott Parry (Stage Director), Ugo Mahieux (Repetiteur), Elsa Queron (Head of Coaching), Antonio Santoyo (Coach and Accompanist), Michel Johnson and Kristen Chambers (MasterClass Presenters). The program also includes a gala, which this year took place at the historic building of the Clavijero Cultural Centre.
A full orchestra opera performance of Verdi’s Falstaff is one of the gems of the current festival. Falstaff, as I commented to Juan del Bosco, is not an easy title. Verdi’s last opera requires a large cast, who must work always at the top, plus a good orchestra and an impressive chorus. But, the executive director replied, and calmed my nerves, by replying that titles are carefully handpicked according to the characteristics and aims. The selection is made by the committee of the Festival. Then, honestly, I am curious about the outcome, which, looks to be promising, particularly I am keen to explore the concrete results of the educational program because the participants of the Faculty are involved in the semi-staged production of Falstaff.
The Festival has extended its ties to Monterrey city, where some events will take place next year. Moreover, it has already activities in Germany, which eventually guarantee an international presence and impact. The self-financed festival, which is a big achievement, has also managed to be part of the cultural activity of Morelia, and its efforts may consolidate the regular high-quality opera activity in Mexico, which is something that the country requires, and maybe, modifying Tetrazzini’s words “Morelia might be a veritable operatic paradise.”
César O. Moreno Zayas is a Ph.D. Candidate in Music at The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. He is carrying out a research on opera audiences and management. His main research areas of interests are opera history, sociology of opera, and opera production. He has recently collaborated with publications for Opera Wire, Mexican Cultural Centre and Las Nueve Musas Magazine. The production of opera is another important part in his expertise, he has produced in 2015 the premiered of the opera Eugenia by the Mexican composer Armando Ortega. Now he is working for a project of Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus by Handel for the City of Orizaba. He has presented papers at specialized congresses and institutions on music, media studies and opera at UNAM, University of Copenhagen, CENIDIM, University of Veracruz, Sibelius Academy, Lund University, and at the University of Nottingham. He is currently collaborating on a research project on independent theatre at the Mora Institute in Mexico City, and he co-coordinate at 17, Critical Studies Institute the Certificate on Contemporary Views in Semiotics: Art, Society, and Digitality.