By César Octavio Moreno Zayas
I went last Sunday 5 of December to the Theatre of the City Esperanza Iris in Mexico City. The lovely venue, where once the famous tenor Caruso sang, hosted the event Tres Óperas en cine mudo (Three operas in silent-film format). This show, programmed by Ópera Cinema and Offenbach Operetta Studio, presented the famous Giacomo Puccini’s Trittico, Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, but with a projection of a movie in the style of the silent films, with live singers and a pianist. I was surprised when I read about this upcoming event because by then I was giving some lectures on opera on the distance. During my lectures, I talked about how opera, as a complex show, which gathers a lot of people and huge machinery, has worked through all the history to elaborate also small versions of itself, to allow its portability and the reduction of its costs. I remembered providing examples of the arrangements and reductions to the piano, so people could play the famous arias at home, a very common practice in the 19th century, the reductions of an orchestra to turn full a scale work into chamber work, and also the video versions of operas. Therefore, I mentioned in my lecture that opera had a good experience at working on distance, and by the arrival of the Covid-19 crisis, the genre was ready enough to present a different types of programs on distance.
Opera lovers remember the film versions of opera staged by famous singers in the 70s and 80s. For example, Rigoletto with Luciano Pavarotti and Edita Gruberova (1982), or Madama Butterfly (1972) with Placido Domingo and Mirellla Freni. However, the link between opera and cinema is as old as the same genre of cinema is. We can find in the early times of the film industry works based on the biographies of Mozart, Wagner or Beethoven, moreover, there are early film versions of famous operas. E.g. in 1926 the premiere of Der Rosenkavalier, directed by Robert Wiene, took place. This 88-minute film is based on the famous opera composed by Richard Strauss, which premiered in 1911; in fact, the same Strauss did the musical arrangements for the film, and he conducted at the premiere of the film. Therefore, the link between opera and cinema is very old, and I am happy that Oswaldo Martín del Campo, director of the project I recently saw, rescued this early connection of two major and mass artistic genres.
Back in 2019, Oswaldo presented at the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City the program Dos ciegos (Two Blind Men). This program consisted of arias or very reduced operas, mostly by Jacque Offenbach, and with the projection of fragments of silent films. But there was one film created for this project, one dedicated to the short work of Offenbach, Les Deux Aveugles (Two Blind Men). This proposal helped the director to elaborate a nice and refined idea, and gain experience for all the crises of 2020. The three Puccini’s operas were prepared during 2020 and early 2021. When venues start to reopen, and open-air events were allowed, the Trittico was presented in February and March in a drive-in cinema; each title on a different night. The performance of last Sunday was the first in-theatre performance and the presentation of the full Trittico.
The ambitious presentation of the three operas cast a very nice and balanced team of voices. I highlight here the work of Armando Mora as Luigi (Il Tabarro). Good shape of the voice, adequate for the role. Marcela Robles as Giorgetta (Il Tabarro) and Abbess (Suor Angelica), had a good and powerful voice. Martha Llamas as Angelica (Suor Angelica), all the opera in good shape, good control of the voice, and adequate projection of it.
The Stage director was Oswaldo Martín del Campo, the film director was Yannic Solis, with stage design by Mario Marin, and costume designs by Frida Chacón and Teresa Cedillo. First, they produced different videos. Il tabarro combined the boat stage, common for this work, together with silent footages of Paris, Suor Angelica was recorded at a colonial convent, and Gianni Schicchi adapted the plot to Adam’s Family style. Therefore, each work had its form to approach it, from a staged made for Il Tabarro, to a real site in Suor Angelica, and with a free interpretation of the plot for the Schicchi. In consequence, the program as it is, gives different choices of the opera but also allows presenting them separately. The concept of the silent film helps the producer, who will have a portable show, the reduction of the text to a small group of captions, but the opportunity to use live singers and a live piano. This project, in the end paradoxically combines the easy multiplication of the operatic experience, as any film is, but the live singers help to create a unique experience at each performance. I heard that this project has traveled also to other non-traditional operatic venues, neighbourhoods, prisons, and others. I think is a good starting point for a potential operatic audience, and I hope there will be a continuation of the project and more titles are on their way.
- Cesar Octavio Moreno Zayas. PhD. in Music from the University of Nottingham. He is a scholar specialized in opera, with particular attention on sociology of opera. He has participated at international congresses on opera at the Sibleius Academy, University of Copenhagen, University of Nottingham, CENIDIM, UNAM, among others. He collaborates with articles and reviews on opera and other cultural subjects with Revista 9 Musas (Spain), Mexican Cultural Centre (UK) and Operawire (USA). He is the director of Opera in Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to the production of opera and arts. As producer he worked at the world-premiere of Eugenia, a chamber opera composed by Armando Ortega, and for the Latin-American premiere of Aci, Galatea e Polifemo by Georg F. Handel. He has worked with institutions like 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos, Chorus of the University of Veracruz, Anáhuac University, School of Music Fausto de Andrés y Aguirre, and others, where he gave courses on history of opera and sociology of this genre. The book «Ópera de México», which he edited, will be released in few days. It gathers papers presented and prepared during the lectures on Mexican Opera, coordinated by Dr. Enid Negrete; the book is published by 9 Musas.