Second New York Times Story

In today’s Sunday New York Times, on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section, there is a feature story about the Havana Bienal which includes prominent mention of the opera:

Note the gorgeous photo of Oshun by our good friend Ricky Opaterny.

Oshun NYT

In case you missed it an earlier New York Times feature story about the opera by Michael Cooper ran the day of the premiere. Here:

A reminder that you can view seven minutes of video highlights from the Havana performance here:

My goal now is to build on the success in Cuba by having the opera produced in the U.S., Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Next week I travel to New York and Washington, DC for meetings with major venues and producers. Interest is brewing already.

More Press, More Photos from Havana

I’ve neglected posting updates: busy digging out from my month in Havana. And taking a breath.

There has been widespread interest in getting the opera presented in the U.S. and Europe. People in Seattle, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area are helping to make this possible. Which is fantastic.

There’s been more press coverage from the Havana performances in The New Statesman, Opera Now, and Granma — the Cuban state newspaper. You’ll need Google translate (and a grain of salt) for the latter.

More images for your pleasure:

L-R: Fidel, Eleggua, and Che. (credit: Ricky Opaterny)

L-R: Fidel, Eleggua, and Che. (credit: Ricky Opaterny)

Eleggua and Porro. (credit: Abel Carmenate)

Eleggua and Porro. (credit: Abel Carmenate)

Composer Roberto Valera - photo c Ricky Opaterny

Composer Roberto Valera (credit: Ricky Opaterny)

Curtain call. (credit: Abel Carmenate)

Cubanacan Opens in Havana

On Thursday evening May 21, beneath a crescent moon, Cubanacan opened its three-night run in Havana with great success.

An audience of over 400 — a mix of Cubans and Havana Bienal visitors from abroad — gave a standing ovation to the first new Cuban opera performed in Cuba in fifty years.

That same day this feature story by Michael Cooper appeared in the New York Times.


Eleggua (Marcos Lima) the Santeria deity of fate, opens the opera.


L-R: Che Guevara (Jose Verdera), Selma Diaz (Laura Ulloa), and Fidel Castro (Roger Quintana). With chorus.

Porro - photo c Ricky Opaterny

Ricardo Porro (Bryan Lopez), the architect.


Oshun (Yilam Sartorio), the Santeria deity of love, art and water.

Upcoming posts will provide further details, and more photos.








First Week of Production in Havana

I have been in Havana for a week. The performers, orchestra and chorus have been rehearsing diligently.


First day of lighting installation, front of School of Plastic Arts.

Director Charles Chemin is working wonders with creative concepts to present the work outdoors, site-specific, at the Art Schools. This will be a very special, one-of-a-kind production. It supports the story and the music, and takes both to a higher level of imagination and dramatic power.

Robin Chemin is preparing amazing costumes. She began working on them in Paris, her home, and is finishing them onsite.


Wardrobe designer, Robin Chemin.

The stage is built, the lights are in, wardrobe is being sewn, sets are arriving from the shop — it’s all coming together for opening night May 21.


A fearless electrician hangs lights.






Getting things done in Cuba with proper materials in a timely manner is a challenge. Our team comes with terrific talent — problem-solvers who make things happen.


Airbnb Helps Underwrite Opera

I am happy to announce that Airbnb, the online service connecting hosts with travelers worldwide, is supporting the Cubanacan opera production next month in Havana.

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As you may have heard, Airbnb is one of the first U.S.-based companies to begin operating in Cuba following President Obama’s dramatic announcement opening up relations between the two countries on December 17, 2014.

You can read about Airbnb’s launch in Cuba here and here.

As it happened I was in Havana when the announcement was made. Several friends said they saw the news on Cuban TV.

Legal and licensed casa particulares have been a convenient, affordable alternative in to hotels for many years. Now it will be even easier to locate them, and make reservations and payments.

Airbnb has a long-standing commitment to the arts and to design. Our partnership came together quickly and easily. The timing between their bold new move and the opera opening could not have been better. I am excited to have Airbnb as a partner for the opera premiere at the 2015 Havana Bienal.

I depart in a few days for Havana to continue preparations for the opera performances. I plan to post updates as they happen.

Rehearsing in Havana

I arrived in Havana a week ago to continue preparations for the opening of the opera on May 21 at the 2015 Havana Bienal. It’s been great to have Charles Chemin, the director, here with me from Paris.


Director, Charles Chemin.

Before even arriving in Cuba our trip began auspiciously in Miami when we met with a representative of the Florida Grand Opera, which is interested in finding out more about the project.

On our first day in Havana we met with all the department heads to get acquainted, discuss the general approach, and plan for our ten-day stay.

The next day we all went out to ISA, the art schools, where the performances will take place.

The Team visits the School of Plastic Arts where the performances will take place. L-R: Majito, production manager; Adejo, sound engineer; Roberto, composer; Carlos, ISA liaison; Manolo, lighting designer; Edelso, translator.

The Team visits the School of Plastic Arts where the performances will take place. L-R: Majito, production manager; Adejo, sound engineer; Roberto, composer; Carlos, ISA liaison; Manolo, lighting designer; Edelso, translator.

After lots of looking, measuring, pointing and thinking we came up with a plan for where the stage will be built, how the lighting will be arranged, and so forth.

Int Lyrico w wallThen we set up shop at the Teatro Lyrico, a gorgeous four-story baroque-style structure, home to the Cuban National Opera, next door to the Fireman’s Museum in Centro Havana. This week Carmen was in the house.

Director Charles Chemin works with singers first day of rehearsal at Teatrico Lyrico, Havana.

Director Charles Chemin works with singers first day of rehearsal at Teatro Lyrico, Havana.

The first sessions went very well. Everyone was excited to get underway. Lots of work ahead!

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.

Then Los Angeles

After driving down from the Bay Area on the I-5 we arrived in Los Angeles.

Pit stop on the I-5.

Pit stop on the I-5.

To be hosted by the opera project’s loyal, gracious, and generous friend, Lyn Kienholz.

The following day, a short driving tour: Mulholland Drive, Laurel Canyon, Hollywood Boulevard, and freeway traffic… to arrive at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the final presentation of this trip.

We're in there somewhere.

We’re in there somewhere.

In spite of a slight hiccup — the electric piano is delivered without a power cord! — the performance was extraordinary.

Finale: "En el campo de golf".

Finale: “En el campo de golf”

And greeted by 56 audience members with a standing ovation.

A warm response.

A warm response.

Big thanks to Adolfo Nodal, Darrel Couturier, and Olga Garay for helping make the evening such a success.

The next day it was time for abrazos and goodbyes to Roberto, Barbara, and Bryan at LAX. But just for the moment. Charles will soon be back in Havana to continue preparations for the Havana premiere.