Intermedia communication or the experienced genre

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. Photograph: Offenbach Operetta Studio.

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.

El secreto de cómo recordar a Offenbach

La nueva producción de Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Los Cuentos de Hoffmann) en el Palacio de Bellas Artes, México. Fotografía: Carlos Alvar.

Por César Octavio Moreno Zayas

2019 fue el año para conmemorar a Jacques Offenbach a 200 años de su nacimiento. Hubo dos eventos en México en diciembre que sirvieron para esto: La nueva producción de Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Los Cuentos de Hoffmann) en el Palacio de Bellas Artes y Les deux Aveugles (Dos Ciegos) que se presentó en la Cineteca Nacional. Hablaré aquí de estas curiosas propuestas.

El martes 10 de diciembre asistí a la segunda función de Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Los Cuentos de Hoffmann). El libreto de esta obra fue escrito por Jules Barbier y narra las vicisitudes amorosas del escritor Hoffmann, quien luego de narrar sus fallidas experiencias románticas, decide entregarse a la musa; i.e. a la inspiración. Esta ópera estructurada en un prólogo, tres actos y un epílogo hace uso de una forma relativamente similar a lo largo de toda la historia. Por un lado tenemos a Hoffmann y a Nicklausse, amigo de Hoffmann, este amigo además eventualmente se presenta como La Musa, también está Lindorf que se presentará como el ente malvado que arruina los planes amorosos del protagonista y también Stella que es la última conquista amorosa de Hofmann, que aparecerá en los tres actos con nombres diferentes: Olympia, Antonia y Giulietta.  

La nueva producción de Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Los Cuentos de Hoffmann) en el Palacio de Bellas Artes, México. Fotografía: Carlos Alvar.

Del trabajo que vi debo resaltar el de la orquesta bajo la batuta de Jonas Alber. Una dirección cuidada, balanceada y con controlados tempi. Vocalmente el elenco incluyó a Jesús León como Hoffmann con un desenvolvimiento actoral bueno y vocalmente estable. Letitia Vitelaru interpretó a las amantes de nuestro protagonista (Stella, Olympia, Antonia y Giulietta) su trabajo fue diverso, como Antonia estuvo más segura en la partitura y brilló mucho su trabajo, como Olympia su coloratura no impactó como podría haberlo sido. El malvado de la historia, Lindorf y sus diversas caracterizaciones de Coppélius, Dr. Miracle y Dapertutto fue interpretado por Philip Horst con una voz adecuada pero un poco fría en el prólogo y que mejoró mucho a partir de la historia de Olympia. El amigo de Hoffmann, Nicklausse/Musa fue interpretado por Cassandra Zoé Velasco, linda voz, buena técnica, buen trabajo escénico y siempre en buena forma. El resto del elenco, Enrique Guzmán, Rosendo Flores, Víctor Hernández, Rodrigo Urrutia, Álvaro Anzaldo, Juan Carlos López y Carlos Santos tuvieron un buen trabajo en sus diversos papeles con adecuado trabajo vocal y escénico. Debo destacar el trabajo de Violeta Dávalos como la madre de Antonia, un papel importante pero que por desgracia no se lució porque aunque visualmente funcionaba, vocalmente era difícil de escuchar y apreciar.

La nueva producción de Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Los Cuentos de Hoffmann) en el Palacio de Bellas Artes, México. Fotografía: Carlos Alvar.

Esta producción fue polémica desde su estreno el domingo 8 de diciembre; incluyó abucheos, gente abandonando el teatro y otros gritos de protesta. Personalmente, el trabajo de Benjamin Cann, director de escena, dista de ser la gran producción, pero a título personal tampoco vi razones para abandonar el foro. El director de escena nos cuenta la historia y resalta mucho el aspecto sexual de la historia, en parte presente y en parte disimulado en el libreto. El director de escena hace uso de diversas escenas sexuales, relativamente explícitas, donde nuestro personaje principal al igual que nosotros es principalmente testigo. Hay momentos cómicos para el director que irritaron a algunos participantes como el uso de bromas sobre dónde colocar la llave a Olympia, el autómata de quien se enamora Hoffmann, o el hecho que se usen sus pechos para poder encenderla. Este tipo de bromas o detalles de esta producción no son nuevos en la ópera y muchos ejemplos podrían ser mencionados; tal vez la molestia sea en que muchos detalles no se lograron justificar completamente dentro de la historia  y de la producción. Por mi parte considero que se quiso eliminar parte de ese carácter romántico de esta obra y hacerla más terrenal, por ponerlo en un sentido. Empero, lo que sí critico es que hubo muchos momentos demasiado estáticos, particularmente en el acto de Antonia, cosa que hacía complicado acercarse a la producción.

La segunda propuesta de Offenbach que vi fue la de Ópera Cinema que hizo Offenbach Operetta Studio. Acudí el 22 de diciembre a ver la propuesta llamada Dos Ciegos. La idea de Ópera Cinema es presentar cine silente musicalizado en vivo con piano y cantantes. En principio suena curiosa la propuesta pero mi primer comentario a lo que vi es que no debió llamarse Dos Ciegos, sino debió titularse algo así como Escenas de cine mudo y Dos Ciegos. El programa incluyó primero una diversidad de cortos de cine mudo de famosos cineastas como Murnau, Chaplin o Méliès, imágenes que fueron acompañadas con la interpretación de un aria o dueto de alguna ópera u operetta famosa. Los compositores escogidos fueron Gioachino Rossini, Charles Gounod, Richard Wagner, Heinrich August Marschner, Ambroise Thomas, George Bizet y Jacques Offenbach. Esta sección, que fue la principal en tiempo, ya que duró alrededor de 55 minutos. En esta primera sección debo mencionar en particular que se mostraron de Méliès escenas de su Viaje a la Luna y Barba Azul, ambas acompañadas con extractos de Viaje a la luna y Barba Azul de Offenbach. Esta selección me pareció muy ad hoc porque no sólo mostraba las obras de Offenbach, sino las tendencias temáticas de la segunda mitad del siglo XIX y principios del XX en Francia, un momento de cruce entre el género fílmico y el operístico.  

La segunda parte del programa fue la realización de una película silente sobre el tema de la mini obra Los Dos Ciegos de Offenbach que cuenta la historia de dos ciegos mendigos y cómo se pelean por tener el derecho a pedir dinero en un puente. Esta propuesta fílmica incluyó Azis Gual y Perico el Payaso Loco, quienes a través de gags tipo el gordo y el flaco entretuvieron y contaron visualmente la historia. La propuesta fílmica fue interesante, en especial luego de la introducción a Offenbach presentada en los cortos anteriores. El proyecto en general me parece interesante y con buenas posibilidades de continuar y ser atractivo, sólo cuidaría más la selección vocal ya que de los interpretes la que más resaltó fue Martha Llamas con una selección cuidada de las arias a interpretar de acuerdo a su voz.

Estos dos Offenbach decembrinos en general fueron una experiencia curiosa, aventurera y un poco arriesgada. ¿Qué podríamos resaltar de esto? Que hay muchas formas de hacer ópera, que no hay un secreto de cómo hacer Offenbach y por ende hay diversos caminos por explorar; esperemos se exploren estos y muchos otros a lo largo de 2020.

  • César Octavio Moreno Zayas, mexicano, es investigador y productor de ópera. Estudió el doctorado en Música en la Universidad de Nottingham, Reino Unido. Produjo el estreno en Latinoamérica de la serenata “Acís, Galatea e Polifemo”, este 2019 para la ciudad de Orizaba, Veracruz, México; también coordinó el rescate de la ópera “Eugenia” del maestro orizabeño Armando Ortega en 2015; asimismo colaboró con la Ópera Juvenil de Xalapa en la realización de Flash Mobs de ópera en 2011. Su labor académica es destacada y ha participado en importantes congresos internacionales en ópera, por ejemplo: en la Academia Sibelius, la Universidad de Copenhague o la Universidad de Nottingham. Publica frecuentemente con el Mexican Cultural Centre (MCC) y colabora con 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos en el área de semiótica y también coordina seminarios especializados en ópera. Ha trabajado como docente e investigador en ópera y lingüística en la UV, UVI, Universidad Anáhuac y UAM. Sus próximos proyectos son la presentación de una ponencia sobre globalización y ópera en la Escuela Estatal de Música Gnessin en Moscú, co-coordina el Certificado Perspectivas Contemporáneas en Semiótica: Arte, Sociedad y Digitalidad que imparte en 17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos; participa en la coordinación del SEMIOFEST 2020.

Morelia and its current ties with the opera

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.

Mexico’s Premiere Summer Opera Festival.  For more information:

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. 

The Conquest of Mexico or the discussion at the opera house

By César Octavio Moreno Zayas

500 years ago, on April 22 Hernan Cortez arrived to Veracruz to start what is called the conquest of Mexico. Centuries have passed and still, we don’t see a 100% serenity in the environment of all the parts.

For example, recently the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has sent, via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico a letter to the government of Spain, particularly the King. He asked for an official apology for the issues caused by the conquest. The letter and the rejection of it by the monarch have caused clashes and reactions on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Intellectuals of any type discussed and argued the pros and cons of that diplomatic movement. Some have agreed about the need for an apology, while others voted for a peaceful silence for the best of the mutual respect. The upheaval even moved scholars to dig into the archives, where they spotted a peace treaty between Mexico and Spain signed back in 1836.

«Fernand Cortez ou la conquête du Mexique : sept pl. de costumes.» Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The turmoil, diplomatic and on the media, is not new and it shows that there is still too much to work on. Some weeks ago the Mexican streaming platform Claro Video has released the documentary Malintzin; Marina, Malinche o Malintzin was the interpreter of Hernan Cortés. Via Marina, the Spaniard conquistador was able to understand and communicate his desires and plans to his allies and enemies in central Mexico. Marina is, then, considered as a traitor by some people, even the word “malinchista,” is often heard among Mexicans, who refer to the person who prefers foreign (people or goods) to Mexican ones. But, this story has another interpretation, which is highlighted in the documentary, that she did not betray her people because the Mexica people were not her people; they were in fact her enemies. In consequence, she acted according to her beliefs for the best of her community. The debate seems, then, to lie on the alliance despite inner conflicts with other cultures or segregation because of those conflicts.

Marina, Cortez, and Emperor Moctezuma are of course very polemic, and their story, as it has been said, had inspired different reactions. Different media and artistic genres have approached the subject and opera is one of them. Opera has  experience at putting on a large scale stage the most interesting representation of social, political or moral issues. For example, the love adventures of Nero depicted in L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi, the class distinctions that appear in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, the famous love story of a courtesan in La Traviata by Verdi, public opinion against one man in the dramatic Peter Grimes composed by Britten, or even a terroristic attack as it appears in The Death of Klinghoffer by Williams. Then, opera in more than 400 years has had the time to describe stories, conflicts, traumas, achievements, as well as real, ideal, sad or funny stories. The Conquest of Mexico and its characters, of course, have been in the opera as early as 1733 when Vivaldi composed his Moctezuma

«Fernand Cortez ou la conquête du Mexique : sept pl. de costumes.» Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The subject of the conquest has appeared several times through the history of opera, and one good question is: how to depict that cultural clash in opera? Because, it is not easy to display a conflict like this on a musical drama. I will try to approach to this matter by mentioning two brief examples: Graun’s Montezuma and Spontini’s Fernand Cortez

Carl Heinrich Graun premiered his Montezuma in Berlin in 1755. The libretto was written in French by the same King of Prussia, Frederik II the Great; the text was then translated into Italian by Giampietro Tagliazucchi to be sung in the usual language of the opera in those years. Ramón Jauve-Martín considers that this work does not present the conquest as a triumph of Europe, moreover, it criticizes it and takes side with the Aztec Empire, particularly it reprimands catholic southern Europe. Thus, Frederik and Graun’s approach seems to highlight the differences between Catholic and protestants, and as Marina, they prefer to follow the attraction of the unknown culture of the Americas, rather than accept the well-known political problem in Europe 53 years after Graun’s work, another opera appeared to display a spectacle that will shake the Spanish Empire.

Fernand Cortez, ou La Conquête du Mexique composed by Gaspare Spontini, with a libretto written in French by Etienne de Jouy and Joseph-Alphonse Esménard. The opera tells a story of the conquest, which includes a love story between a daughter of the emperor Montezuma and Cortez. The work finishes with the rendition of the emperor, a peace agreement and also the Aztec monarch gives the hand of his daughter to Cortez. The work, as explained by Sarah Hibberd, reflects the political context of its premiere. It was commissioned by Napoleon I as propaganda after his invasion to Spain in 1808. The conquerors were conquered and the kings were overthrown in both cases. Then, Spontini’s conquest display not just a religious or political conflict in Europe, rather it uses a story of the past to propose or anticipate a future. The problem for Spontini and Napoleon is that this future is not going to happen, because the invasion did not increase the territories, in fact, it encouraged the separation and future creation of new countries, like Mexico. 

The conquest of Mexico in conclusion cannot be labeled  solely as an entertainment, but it is a complex sign made by different readings. Some of those of those readings are still present, for example in the discussions of the letter to the king. However, let’s move to Madrid, maybe we can find some ideas for a truce of this half-millennium conflict. In 2013 the Teatro Real presented a new production of Wolfgang Rihms’ Die Eroberung von Mexiko. The opera, premiered in Hamburg in 1992, has a libretto written by the composer, based on Antonin Artaud, it also includes works by Octavio Paz. The finale of this work is different, and it walks in another direction. In words of Gerard Mortier, Rihm’s opera shows that cultures must understand each other, and their encounter must conclude in harmony, not in blood. Then, we may listen to the opera, is an old genre, it has experience, and it has seen many things of the world. We might learn something from it, and find a peaceful resolution.

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. 

Luciérnaga: exploring the hyperreality and hyper-myth

By César Octavio Moreno Zayas
PhD Candidate for The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

Photograph: Silvia Peláez.

Last Thursday, October 11, I went to the second performance of Luciérnaga (Firefly) the last opera composed by Gabriela Ortiz with a libretto written by Silvia Peláez. It was a very interesting experience musically, vocally as well as visually. The performance took place at the Sala Miguel Covarrubias at the National Autonomous University (UNAM). This one and a half hour long opera tells the story of Alcira Soust Scaffo, an Uruguayan poet, who locked herself at the male toilet of the Tower of Humanities at UNAM, during a military intervention to the university on September 18, 1968.

Photograph: Silvia Peláez.

1968 was a year of different social movements around the world. In Mexico, there was also a movement that evolved into a large-scale conflict between different groups (students and the state). Books have been written exploring the different reasons that have led to such outcomes. Therefore, it is a sensitive subject to talk about, and to create an opera based on this was not an easy job. Opera and politics or social issues have been always present through the whole history of the genre, but its forms to show it was not always so direct. The 20th and 21st Century have seen the premieres of operas dealing with very specific and contemporary concerns, for example, John Adam’s Doctor Atomic or The Death of Klinghoffer, Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, or Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek. As for me, Luciérnaga was a clever choice among the different options to talk about the movement of 68, which now it is its 50th anniversary.

The librettist has created a good text for a soprano and a male actor. The work narrates a claustrophobic environment, and we see how Alcira, sung by Cecilia Eguiarte, tells what is happening outside the building but also things that happen in her head. She struggles with real facts and with her mind. The actor José Juan Sánchez appears sometimes as a soldier (a real one), others as a mere character of Alcira’s mind, such as a dinosaur (common visual representation of the leading party of that time; PRI).

Photograph: Silvia Peláez.

The music of Gabriela Ortiz was very descriptive for such plot full of uprising emotions and inner feelings. It was a turmoil very well depicted by percussions and winds, sometimes nice and lovely, others aggressive and chaotic, but always on the track of the plot. The soprano Cecilia Eguiarte sang an interesting and convincing Alcira, dealing always well with the defying score and acting adequately. The actor José Juan Sánchez did a good job performing the characters. The orchestra, Onix Ensemble, was conducted by Ludwig Carrasco, very well conducted, always firm and steady.

Photograph: Silvia Peláez.

The production was directed by David Attie. It was a very good work with projections exploring different elements of Alcira’s mind, including the reptile traits. But, also it consisted of some flexible panels resembling the windows of the building, behind those panels we could see the toilets services. The use of all the material was very good, giving always a reason for each element on the stage. It was for me interesting the separation of the singing part and the acting part because it reminds me the distinction that Adorno does between audience who wish to sing, but cannot, and the singers who are able to express the desires of the audience. Considering this perspective Alcira stands for a poet thought that moves in the world of ideas and ideals. The work in the whole was very good, maybe some elements might be extra, as for my taste, but that it is a just personal choice. I highly recommend this work and I am hoping to see it again because it should have had more than three performances.

Reynaldo and Elina: An opera of no impact but with huge importance

By César Octavio Moreno Zayas
PhD Candidate for The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

Reynaldo y Elina o la Sacerdotisa Peruana (Reynaldo and Elina or the Peruvian priestess) by Manuel Covarrubias and libretto by Gabino Feliciano Bustamante.

The history of the Mexican opera, as well as the work on the archeological sites, is fascinating because every day you may find something new. For example, last May 26 I went to see Reynaldo y Elina o la Sacerdotisa Peruana (Reynaldo and Elina or the Peruvian priestess) by Manuel Covarrubias and libretto by Gabino Feliciano Bustamante. It was a production of the Taller de Ópera of the Faculty of Music and the Estanislao Mejía Symphony Orchestra; both from the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM) and it took place at the Miguel Covarrubias Hall in Mexico City with two performances on May 26 and 27. How was it? How does Covarrubias’ music sound like? How was the libretto? I will try to answer some of these questions, which I even had before this performance.

Jesús Romero in his History of the Opera in Yucatán mentions some composers as the key characters in the development of the Mexican opera: Lauro Rossi, Antonio Barilli, and Giovanni Bottesini. From all these composers just Rossi worked in México before or during the period of composition of Reynaldo; the programme mentions 1838 as the date of composition. Romero points out that Rossi arrived in México in 1838, but Sosa and Escobedo affirm that Rossi worked in México since 1836. Was Rossi the only influence? No, because we need to recall that the companies of Manuel García and Filippo Galli visited México; the first one in the 1820s and the second one in 1830s. Manuel García even premiered some of his works in México. Then, an exploration of the musical panorama allows us to discover a list of operas performed before Reynaldo, works composed by Gioachino Rossini (the most), Vicenzo Bellini, Rossi, Stefano Cristiani, Saverio Mercadante, Gaetano Donizetti, Carlo Coccia, and even Giacomo Meyerbeer who all influenced Covarrubias’ brand-new work. If I would need to mention the main influences, my vote would go to Rossini, we find cabaletta, arias, and a frequent use of the crescendo since the overture. I also consider that the premieres in México of Guillaume Tell (Rossini) in 1836 and Il Crocciato in Egitto (Meyerbeer) in 1837 influenced the work of Covarrubias, particularly when we consider the importance of the chorus and their use at the big finales of each act. Thus, Reynaldo’s music may stand somewhere between the bel canto and the trends that will develop into the Grand Opéra; the plot also confirms this but I will talk later about it. Moreover, something very interesting and very close to the early Rossini is the selection of voices, because the main couple is sung by a soprano (Elina) and a mezzosoprano in a trouser roles (Reynaldo). This distribution can be seen in Tancredi or Ciro in Babilonia, even with Meyerbeer’s Crociato. Although the music is interesting, it sometimes it is repetitive and it can be tiring at some moments.

I have talked about the work and its composer but I have not mentioned the problems behind this composition. A note in the program, written by Elías Morales Cariño, whose Master dissertation analyzes this opera, says that this title was not premiered in the 19th Century, and even the current performance was advertised as a world-premiere. But, Gabriel Pareyon in his Dictionary of Mexican music points out that this title had an amateur performance, which carried out the premier in 1842, even opera critic Lázaro Azar highlights this premiere at his comments on this performance of the radio show Críticos. Then, there is a point of discrepancy which requires for better information and research, in order to place this opera and particularly this performance at its real place in the history of the Mexican opera. However, Morales and Pareyón agree that this is the oldest Mexican opera that exists in the archives. The composer, Manuel Covarrubias (1810-1879), is interesting because there are few data about his life and work. Scholars know that he was composer and violinist and that some of his works (arrangement of famous overtures) were even played at the opening of the Teatro Nacional in 1844. Then, it seems that he was a renowned composer of his time and that he worked close to the opera companies that visited the country in those years.

The libretto was written by Gabino Feliciano Bustamante (1816-1871) and has as its main source Reynaldo y Elina and El Marido Mimado which was a translation made by Mariano de Cabrerizo y Bascuas, although not specified as such, of Théodore, ou Les Peruviens written by Pigault-Lebrun and of Excès de provennces by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly.  The opera has three acts and takes place in Perú at the beginning of 18th Century. It tells the love story of Elina, an Incan priestess, and Reynaldo, a French man who is escaping from Spanish army. He finds the priestess in the sacred forest of Cayambur and she helps him to hide. Villuma, the main priest, discovers that Elina is hiding a foreigner, then he orders to kill Elina and her mother, but then Reynaldo appears to save them. Elina and Reynaldo are captured. The second act shows Elina and Reynaldo in prison, Cora and Meloe (another fellow priestess) helped them to escape. Then, Villuma is upset but he also discovers that the Spanish army is approaching to the sacred forest, so he needs to prepare for the battle. The final act shows the return of Reynaldo with Elina. Reynaldo tells Villuma that he will help to fight against the Spanish. The third act opens with Madame Berval, a character with no clear connections to the other characters; even the program suggests she appears to create a sort of pasticcio of the work. Whatever Berval’s character means, she sings about the triumph of the Incas and the triumph of love, so the aria tells the forthcoming story. The act continues with the joy of the people for the triumph and Villuma telling Reynaldo that he can get whatever he wants. Reynaldo ask just for Elina, to marry her. Villuma agrees and the opera finishes in big choruses of joy for the new couple, and the peace won in battle. The story in principle is interesting and as a good Grand Opera narrates the big political conflicts and public participation (think in Guillaume Tell, La Muette de Portici, La Juive, and others). Despite the plot sounds good, the development of the libretto is not because many dramatic moments don’t develop as they could. Nevertheless, the scene for the chorus is interesting and touching, particularly with the music of Covarrubias.

It is a very important work in the history of Mexican opera, which help to trace influences that have led the genre in this country as it can be seen today. Despite the arguable impact it has in its time, particularly because specialists do not decide whether the premiere took place or not, its libretto, its sources, and its form of composition might be the needed pivotal point that encouraged Cenobio Paniagua, Melesio Morales, Aniceto Ortega and many others. The performance itself could be better, but I really enjoyed Maria Jacinta Barbachano (Reynaldo). María had good performance and adequate work on stage with good volume and technique. Her work from the first act as a prisoner to her triumphal final appearance was fine and not overacted. The stage work could be better, particularly for an unknown work that needs to produce the big impact on the audience.

Despite all, listening to a rare work is always enjoyable. But, as for this work that might be crucial in the understanding of the opera-making in México in early 19th Century, it definitely deserves a deep study on its history of composition and production, as well as a production that can produce a deep impact in a full house. I will wait for further productions that will explore the richness and uniqueness of this score and for many publications that will contribute to the deep understanding of Covarrubias’ appeal.

México + Barcelona + ópera; una combinación de impacto

La Dra. Enid Negrete, publicó recientemente un trabajo que dejará huella en la literatura especializada en ópera que existe en lengua española, en particular en los estudios de la creación operística en tierras mexicanas.

«Con el sol de México en la voz: Los artistas mexicanos en el Gran Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona (1870-2017).» Editorial Círculo Rojo. Colección: Investigación. España. Autora: Enid Negrete. ISBN: 978-84-9183-192-1.

El libro “Con el sol de México en la voz”, publicado por la Editorial Círculo Rojo, España; tiene un propósito sencillo y claro: mostrar a los artistas mexicanos y su trabajo en el Gran Teatro de Liceo de Barcelona de 1870-2017. A pesar de la sencillez del propósito original, la autora se enfrentó a grandes retos en su búsqueda, ya que hizo importantes descubrimientos. Lo primero es tomar en cuenta la diversidad de fuentes que tuvo que usar para poder recabar la información: archivo del Gran Teatro del Liceo y otros archivos españoles, reseñas de críticos, grabaciones en audio o video, programas de mano y entrevistas a los artistas. 

Una investigación de este tipo trae muchas dificultades, en especial por la gran cantidad de información cualitativa que hace complejo el trabajo en la clasificación adecuada y permita un análisis de dicha información. Precisamente uno de los logros de este libro, a lo largo de más de 500 páginas, consigue por un lado presentar la interesante historia de los mexicanos que han trabajado en el Liceo, pero al mismo tiempo logra desarrollar un interesante análisis sobre el desarrollo y especialización de los artistas en dicho foro; el cual pasa de la historia de una soprano sfogato a la de otros cantantes, directores de orquesta, de escena y compositores. 

¿Qué descubrimos en este libro? Descubrimos datos únicos e interesantes, tendencias de qué artistas son más populares en cierta época y también encontramos historias de triunfos y fracasos. Por ejemplo, es sabido que Ángela Peralta fue una de las principales cantantes de ópera que México ha dado al mundo, se sabe que tuvo éxitos en Europa y en México pero la autora logra rescatar una descripción de su interpretación:

“La Sra. Peralta salió no sólo airosa, sino que ha alcanzado un éxito satisfactorio en el desempeño de dicha parte, supone que la nueva cantante tiene dotes artísticas poco comunes y muy recomendables. Su voz de soprano sfogato en de buen timbre y de regular volumen, aunque a lo que parece un poco débiles los puntos agudos, y tiene mucha flexibilidad. Su escuela es correcta, su estilo esmerado y su garganta ágil y dúctil” (Fargas y Soler, 1870: 1206.1207).

Así es como nos enteramos de las vicisitudes para estrenar ópera mexicana en Barcelona: La Mulata de Córdoba de Moncayo, Carlota de Sandi y Severino de Moreno; o de cómo en años recientes el tenor Javier Camarena o el director de escena Francisco Negrín han trabajado con éxito en dicho teatro. Algo digno de resaltar es que en el caso de artistas de la última generación, la autora ha podido entrevistarlos y obtener de primera mano información que cuentan de sus trayectorias artísticas.

Historias como estas que rescatan información que permiten trazar las carreras de artistas mexicanos y en especial saber la razón del por qué impactaron o impactan al público barcelonés, hacen que este no sólo sea un libro de la historia de los artistas famosos, sino un estudio de la producción del género y más importante de la recepción del mismo. Público en general y bibliotecas deben tener este libro en sus estantes ya que será de gran utilidad para historiadores, particularmente en música y ópera, estudiosos de la cultura y para el público general que desee saber más del género operístico que tanto apasiona.

Biografía de la autora Enid Negrete

Doctora en Artes Escénicas por la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Reside en esta ciudad desde hace quince años, donde ha trabajado como productora y directora de escena de teatro y ópera, así como especialista en archivos operísticos, crítico, profesora y articulista.

Como investigadora fue la primera en estudiar los archivos históricos de los dos teatros más importantes de ópera de España: El teatro Real de Madrid (actualmente consultable en el Institut del Teatre) y el Archivo histórico de la Sociedad del Gran Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona (en proceso de digitalización por la UAB). Trabajos a los que dedicó más de 10 años de trabajo y por los que se le postuló a la nacionalidad española por aportaciones a la cultura.

De 2013 a 2016 fue investigadora invitada del Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información “Carlos Chávez” del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes de México, donde realizó el diseño de la primera línea de investigación de la ópera en México.

Desde el año 2006 ha colaborado en diferentes publicaciones especializadas en ópera, música clásica y artes escénicas, tales como Ópera Actual, Opus Musica, La onda, Revista ADE de la Asociación de Directores de Escena de España, Heterofonía y

En 2002 participó en el Working Experience Programm de la Royal Opera House de Londres dentro del Staff de Directores. Durante la emisiones de 2004 y 2005 fue la coordinadora técnica del Festival d’Opera de Butxaca i Novas Creacions de Barcelona y formó parte del equipo de producción en la temporada 2004-05 del Gran Teatro del Liceo.

En 2005 participó en el programa Leonardo VIP para directores de escena del Teatro alla Scala de Milán. Actualmente es la presidenta de la Fundación Arte contra Violencia dedicada a apoyar a los artistas de escasos recursos, dar formación profesional y difundir el arte mexicano en Cataluña.

Arte y tradición contra la violencia

El arte triunfa contra la violencia y hay pruebas de ello. El 7 de junio tuve la oportunidad de ir a Guerrero, al municipio Arcelia, México, y conocer el Centro Cultural El Tecolote. Lo que aquí les narraré no es fantasía sino la realidad de un proyecto con alto impacto social.

Abril Mondragón en el Monólogo Siuatl. Tecolote. 7 de junio de 2017. Fotografía: César Octavio Moreno Zayas.

El Tecolote se localiza en la zona de tierra caliente y se encuentra en una región con altos niveles de violencia que han afectado la tranquilidad de muchos de los habitantes, por muchas generaciones. Este centro cultural desde el nombre hace un rescate. El nombre proviene de la denominación que se daba a un manantial que tenía cercano. Dicho manantial fue olvidado cuando el agua corriente llegó a las casas. Ahora el centro cultural ha logrado que la gente recuerde esa área por lo que también se ha rescatado parte de la memoria local. Pero ¿qué hace en sí El Tecolote?

El Tecolote es un centro cultural con una elaborada infraestructura que incluye dos teatros, dormitorios, aulas, espacios multiusos, un museo, cocina comunitaria y hasta una tienda. Es difícil, al menos para mí, pensar en otro centro cultural que tenga esta infraestructura. Pero este proyecto no es nuevo, tiene más de 25 años y Josafat Nava Mosso, director y fundador, comenta que se dan muchas actividades; por ejemplo: se da baile de tabla purépecha, teatro comunitario o de campo, violín y guitarra calentana, tamborita calentana, alfarería, laudería, se juega la lotería calentana, también hay rima e incluso cocina tradicional. Además, cada sábado el grupo de teatro da una función y el teatro se llena.

El proyecto, así como lo describo, es realmente impresionante, pero no se acaba ahí. Hernán Nava, hijo de Josafat Nava, se ha especializado en violín y ha logrado crear la orquesta calentana. Dentro de los proyectos que tiene en mente está la creación de un evento que se inspire en una obra local y que haga uso del teatro, danza y música. Es decir un tipo de ópera pero con fuerte influencia local.

Muchos se han enterado de este proyecto y han ayudado en su desarrollo. La Dra. Enid Negrete, quien apoya mucho a El Tecolote, agrega que los egresados de El Tecolote pueden seguir una educación profesional y que los apoyan a los estudiantes con una modesta beca para que puedan continuar con su desarrollo. A los maestros se les ofrece una beca para ir a Barcelona, España, en donde pueden hacer una residencia artística. Estos apoyos han logrado que estudiantes de El Tecolote se hayan vuelto maestros y que felizmente quieran contribuir a seguir con el desarrollo del centro cultural.

Decoración de hoja de maíz en el foro abierto de El Tecolote. Fotografía: César Octavio Moreno Zayas.

Braulio Amadís, coordinador técnico, comenta que el cambio que ha visto en el transcurso de los años es la felicidad de los alumnos que se han vuelto maestros y que pueden apoyar al centro cultural. Este proyecto, apunta Braulio, apoya al rescate de la identidad local e individual. En este sentido, conviene resaltar algo que el maestro Josafat puntualiza y es que el Tecolote no trata de hacer folklore, sino rescatar las tradiciones. Las reflexiones detrás de este proyecto son muy interesantes y son impactantes, a tal punto que tienen una gran atención de la sociedad que está al pendiente de las actividades del centro cultural y que está plenamente integrado a la oferta cultural local.

El trabajo arduo ha logrado obtener grandes resultados, en especial en la calidad artística. La mezzosoprano Rocío Tamez, quien también estaba visitando el Tecolote, me comentaba lo impresionada que estaba con el nivel de los chicos que estudian y que el coro es muy bueno. Anna Rossell, gestora cultural y maestra de escritura creativa, también resultó sorprendida del nivel de El Tecolote, así como el gran entusiasmo que tienen los alumnos. Anna, en entrevista, comentaba que el centro tiene dos columnas fundamentales: la artística y la social.

Entonces, encontramos que la fórmula que se creó acá ha tenido un gran éxito tanto a nivel local como a nivel nacional e internacional, ya que artistas del Tecolote han comenzado a hacer grandes trabajos en Europa. La actriz Abril Mondragón, por ejemplo, presentó en Barcelona en 2016 el ‘working in progress’ de su monólogo Siuatl, mismo que presentó ahora en el Tecolote y que se espera haga una gira internacional.

El centro cultural ha logrado desarrollar un proyecto único en el país y no es raro pensar que artistas como Rocío Tamez, Maria Katzarava estén interesadas en apoyarlo. Ellas participaron en un concierto en Barcelona y el día 10 de junio participaron en México en otro concierto a beneficio de El Tecolote, junto a Verónica Villarroel y Maribel Villarroel.

Al pensar en este proyecto pienso en los resultados. Pensar en sus resultados y cómo el origen de todo es combatir a la violencia me hace de inmediato asociarlo con el famoso FNB o FIB (Felicidad Nacional Bruta o Felicidad Interna Bruta). El Tecolote busca que los estudiantes estén felices por aprender, que logren alejarse de la violencia, que puedan continuar sus estudios, ampliar su oferta laboral, entre muchas otras cosas que derivan en una mejor calidad de vida y lo mejor de todo esto es que lo están logrando.

Les invito a que se acerquen a conocer este centro cultural. Para los que están en la Cd. de México no se pierdan este 15 de julio los conciertos que ofrece la Orquesta Calentana en Plaza Loreto a las 12 hrs y en Plaza Cuicuilco a las 17 hrs.