Cubanacan Opera in New York

Composer Roberto Valera, soprano Barbara Llanes, and producer/librettist Charles Koppelman appeared at The 8th Floor in Manhattan on Thursday evening, January 29. They presented excerpts from the opera for an audience of invited guests.

Roberto and Barbara performing excerpts.

Roberto and Barbara performing excerpts.

The audience responded very warmly to the music, and to the concept of the opera. Several expressed interest in supporting the work and traveling to Havana to see the premiere at the 2015 Havana Biennale.

L-R: Roberto, Barbara, and Charles in NYC.

L-R: Roberto, Barbara, and Charles in NYC.

Several members of the press — foreign and domestic — came to a press event earlier that evening. We are expecting stories to result from the Voice of America, Opera America, the Associated Press, and others.

We arrived from all points: Barbara from Paris where she gave a concert of baroque songs; Roberto from Havana via Miami; and Charles from San Francisco. Unfortunately tenor Bryan Lopez was still stuck in Havana awaiting his U.S. visa. He did finally receive it and will be joining us for presentations this coming week in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This is the first-ever visit to the U.S. for the Cubans. So it was an extra bit of culture shock to arrive in New York on the heels of the blizzard-than-never-was. Lots of snow on the ground and chill in the air.

Barbara threatens producer with snowball.

Barbara threatens producer with snowball.

"Where is my espresso?"

“Where is my espresso?”

We did make time to see the sights: the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, Central Park, Carnegie Hall and MoMA. And attend an amazing concert of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra led by Arturo O’Farrill, featuring guitarist/composer Lionel Loueke.

Who is that masked man?

Who is that masked man?

Cuban Blizzard

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The Cubans are coming!

Composer Roberto Valera, soprano Barbara Llanes, and tenor Bryan Lopez will be in New York later this week to present excerpts from the opera to a group of invited guests. Their warmth will melt whatever snow might remain on the ground.

This is their first time in the U.S. It is an exciting time for them, for me, and for our two countries.

After New York, it’s on to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

We are expecting some stories in the press. So watch this space.


Ricardo Porro, 1925-2014

Ricardo Porro passed away in Paris, France on December 25, 2014. I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with him over the last several years as I conceived and developed the opera, “Cubanacan.”

He had passion, eloquence and a fantastic (and fantastical) sense of design. He was ever-positive about the idea for this opera. No matter what hurdles had to be jumped.

During our first meeting together in New York City, I deferred from asking him all the questions I wanted answered about his life and the story of the Art Schools. Instead I suggested he might have questions for me.

“I have just one question,” he said, in perfect, slightly aristocratic English. I waited breathlessly — in just one word he could sink the whole enterprise if he thought an opera with him as the main character might be an unwise undertaking.

“Am I tenor… or a bass?”

We both agreed a tenor was most appropriate.

You can read a moving, detailed obituary for Ricardo in the New York Times.

Ricardo will miss the opera premiere in Havana at the Bienale this coming May 22. But his spirit, and his School of Plastic Arts, will be front-and-center.


Four Days in Havana

My recent quick visit to Havana at the end of September had many good outcomes.

View from Casa Luisa, the casa particular where I stay.

View from Casa Luisa, the casa particular where I stay.

  • Meeting with Director of the 2015 Havana Biennale, Jorge Fernandez. He confirmed dates for the opera performances: Friday-Sunday, May 22-25, 2015. He weighed in with advice about selecting an opera director and logistical arrangements.


My Cuban breakfast.

My Cuban breakfast.

  • Meeting with Orlando Vistal, Director of the Institute of Music — part of the Ministry of Culture. Vistal is very supportive. He offered to help by providing in-kind support for staging and music copying — a challenge in Cuba given limited availability of paper and printers.
  • Meeting with Maria del Rosario Herna, Dean of the Music School, ISA, and her staff. Maria loves the project and confirmed approval for using ISA/School of Plastic Arts as the venue for the site-specific performances. She wants to host a big party at the premiere, as it will be the fifty-year anniversary of the opening of ISA, the national art schools.
At ISA, the art schools.

At ISA, the art schools.

  • Music. Composer Roberto Valera just finished the piano/vocal score for the complete work. He previewed his newest compositions for me. They are magnificent! A climactic scene — the building of the Schools — is set to a 6/8 conga rhythm that will get audiences up and out of their seats, dancing in the aisles.
Never know what you'll find at the kiosks on the Plaza de Armas.

Never know what you’ll find at the kiosks on the Plaza de Armas.

  • I met with three possible opera directors. All are very well-known directors of theatre, dance, and performance. I will make a selection shortly, once I hear back about their respective availabilities.

Meetings took up much of my limited time, being in Havana for only four full days. However, Music Director Zenaida Romeu made sure I got to the top of the Television Building (tallest structure in Havana) for a quick mojito.

Havana sunset from atop TV Building, Havana.

Havana sunset from atop TV Building, Havana.

Return to Havana

I leave for Havana this coming Thursday, for a week. I will meet with Jorge Fernandez, Director of the Havana Biennale, to plan details for the May performance. I will meet a theatre director who is interested in directing the opera. Composer Roberto Valera and I will review the piano/vocal score, which is nearly done. And I’ll spend time with Music Director Zenaida Romeu to begin identifying players, singers, and other members of the creative team.

Stay tuned for updates from Cuba.

Interest Grows

Interest in the opera is growing. Friends of Cubanacan are introducing it to the Los Angeles Opera, the Kennedy Center, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Florida Grand Opera. 6a00d83451c83e69e200e54f2a78db8833-800wiWith the idea that representatives of these companies would come to Havana to preview the work at the Havana Biennale 2015. And consider it for a co-production.