Cuba Report #3: Hiring the Team

The balance of my week was largely devoted to meeting and hiring the rest of the creative team. And here they are:

Mario (Mayito) Oliva, Local Producer: Young, put-together, focused and professional. I have worked with a lot of production managers over the years in the film business. I can read the personality of someone who’s qualified, hard working, and pleasant to be with. This is the guy.

Maykel Paez, Set Designer: A graduate of ISA (the art schools, focus of the opera), Maykel has designed sets for opera, film and theatre. On top of that, he does fine art that is wonderfully surreal. Such as these below.

FORMA Y CONTENIDO 130x 100 de la serie De Islas y su Peso. Acrilico sobre lienso 130x 100cm _resized









Manolo Garriga, Lighting Designer: I was told by many people, in Havana and in the States, that Manolo is the top lighting designer in all of Cuba. He has toured the world with shows originating from Cuba. Here is a link to his work. He already has some fantastic ideas for lighting that will feature the School of Plastic Arts and its architecture in the sets.

Susana Pous, Choreographer: Susana brings both international and Cuban sensibilities to the project. You can read an interview with Susana, and see some images of her work, here. She will design dance sequences within the opera, and also work with Director Charles Chemin to stylize movements of the singers and chorus throughout the work.

I am blessed to have such a talented group of artists bringing the opera to life in collaboration with our maestro, Roberto Valera, and stage director Charles Chemin.

Windows from my window,

Windows from my window,


Office at the Centro Wilfredo Lam — also HQ of the Havana Bienal.

Office at the Centro Wilfredo Lam — also HQ of the Havana Bienal.

Cuba Report #2: Hiring the Director

On arriving in Havana I got settled into Alina’s casa particular on the seventh floor of a deco apartment on San Juan de Dios in Havana Vieja. With this view of the El Capitolio:


A couple of hours later Jorge Fernandez, the Director of the Bienal, met me downstairs. Once composer Roberto Valera joined us we walked to dinner at Esto No Es Un Cafe (This is Not a Cafe) just off Plaza de la Catedral.

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This tiny new paladar was started by an art curator who worked with Jorge at the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wilfredo Lam around the corner, of which Jorge is also Director.

We ordered our Santiago rums (straight up), made a toast to the opera, and Jorge jumped right on me about hiring a Director for the opera. I arrived with a couple of possibilities, and one additional theatre director to meet in Havana. Jorge was enthused about what I had to say about Charles Chemin. He’s a Paris-based director recommended to me by Robert Wilson, the well-known international theatre and opera director with whom Chemin works regularly as an assistant director and collaborator.

I had held off about hiring a director to honor the idea of hiring a Cuban. Valera offered that we go look for the Cuban director tomorrow, at her theatre. Not an unreasonable idea — but not knowing if she was in town, at the theatre, interested, or even available I pictured a wild-goose chase lasting several days. I expressed my doubt about that strategy.

“Well, you’re excited about Chemin,” Fernandez said.

“True, I like him a lot.”

Neither he nor Valera objected to a European director.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll call Chemin tomorrow and offer him the job.”

And so I did, the next day by email, from my Havana “office” — the second floor lounge at the Parque Central Hotel.

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And just my luck: Wi-Fi charges in the hotel had suddenly dropped by more than half: from 10 CUCs/hour (about $10) to 4.5/hour ($4.50)! Tangible evidence things like Internet connectivity and its costs are changing due to the breakthrough in US-Cuban relations.

Chemin answered by email: “Great! I’m looking forward. Excited about this project.”

You can read about our wonderful Stage Director, Charles Chemin, here.

Cuba Report #1

I just recently returned from Havana after a week of intense preparation for the upcoming premiere of the Cubanacan opera at the 2015 Havana Bienal in May. By my account I had a total of 15 meetings with 37 different people over the course of five days. If you’ve been to Cuba you’ll know that’s a lot to get done in a very short time!

The primary purpose of my trip was cementing performance details with the staff at the Bienal, at ISA (the art schools which is the venue for the performances), and hiring the rest of the creative team.

Dates and times are set: Thursday May 21, Saturday May 23, and Monday May 25 — all performances beginning at 8:30 PM. At the Institute de Artes Superior (ISA); School of Plastic Arts in the Playa district of Havana.

In further posts I will go into more detail. Suffice it to say the infrastructure is in place, the creative team is assembled, and the way forward is clear.

The artists and performers in Havana are excited and already working hard to make the opera premiere original, ground-breaking, and memorable.

Here are two views from the “base” of my operations, Casa Alina, on the seventh floor in Havana Vieja.

This building, across the way, will be dressed with outdoor gardens and flora as a Bienal art installation.

This building, across the way from the Casa, will be dressed with outdoor gardens and flora as a Bienal art installation.

View  north from the living room: Musee de Revolution with scaffolding.

View north from the living room: Musee de Revolution with scaffolding. The Faro Castillo del Morro and the Straits of Florida on the horizon.