Magazine article Opera Canada

Miami

Magazine article Opera Canada

Miami

Article excerpt

If you were to guess, as I did, that Jorge Martin's opera, Before Night Falls, was inspired by the movie of the same name, you'd be mistaken: though the two share a source and a title in Cuban dissident writer Reinaldo Arenas's memoir, posthumously published in 1992, Martin got there first, securing the musical rights in 1995, five years before Julian Schnabel's film hit North American screens. The project had a lengthy gestation. In search of a librettist, Martin finally settled on himself, with invaluable assistance from Arenas's translator, Dolores Koch, whom he improbably tracked down via a Manhattan phone book. The fledgling opera was work-shopped in New York in 2005, but it waited five more years to take full wing onstage, in Fort Worth, and another seven for its second flight, at Miami's Florida Grand Opera this past March.

If that condensed timetable suggests something other than a pressured rush to the finish line, the dividends to so measured an approach were easily audible and visible in Miami, where director David Gately re-created his Fort Worth production, with a largely new cast under a new conductor, the versatile up-and-comer, Christopher Allen. When Martin was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1959--the year Castro ousted Batista to create history's longest-running communist regime--the teenaged Arenas was already disillusioned with a cause he once fervently espoused. Martin left Cuba as a small child; Arenas was 37 when he fled, bearing the scars of two decades of political oppression. Somehow, eventually, they both wound up in New York City; and though they never met, there's a clear experiential and emotional bond between Martin and his subject, two gay creative artists whose roots run deep in an island they were compelled to abandon. It's easy to sense in Martin's opera an intuitive "borrowing" from Arenas's experiences to visit a time and a place he himself never quite knew--the sounds, the dance rhythms and bold colours seem organic, never put-on, and the feel of the beaches, the breezes, the heat seems palpable and authentic. For its protagonist, Arenas, the opera is both a memory play and a dream play, as, on his deathbed from AIDS in the opening scene, he recalls his life from 1958 onward. …

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