The things that take place in this country can be a ludicrous as a comedian all tied up in knots. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself recounting events that have left me astonished for being so preposterous.
In Cuba, the possibility of directing matters along a logical and reasonable course almost always ends up exactly the opposite: irrational and absurd.
Every year in May, the city of Santiago de Cuba celebrates the “Santiago Concert.” This is a day of exhibiting the best of what is referred to as the town’s “cultured music” (classical, symphonic, choral and operatic song). To this are invited guests from other parts of the country and from abroad.
This year’s general program of the celebration was captivating. I attended the opening presentation at the Dolores Concert Hall, where I enjoyed the intermezzi per musica La Dirindina, the opera of the same name by Domenico Scarlatti. It was masterfully performed by three actors from the Compañía Lirica Nacional and musicians from the Orquesta Sinfonica del Oriente.
But what caught the attention of me and my companion was the brevity of the function. While leaving the hall I ran into a former colleague from the theater who is involved in the artistic direction of this event, so I asked him about the abbreviated duration.
“Why was the initial program so short? I was expecting some other performance in addition to the intermezzo .”
He responded saying, “What happened is so inadmissible that it’s hard to explain…”
This was when I found out that one of the most remarkable and award-winning cellists in the country had been invited but was ultimately unable to perform. This was someone who has often been honored within and outside Cuba, and whose name is Amparo del Riego. The cellist, along with the aria of the opera, was supposed to have played at this opening.
Incomprehensibly, we didn’t have the pleasure of enjoying her art because she couldn’t travel from Havana with her instrument. For security reasons, Cubana Airlines prohibits passengers from carrying on their musical instruments on the plane; those have to be stored below.
As is understandable, no self-respecting artist would risk their instrument in any freight storage compartment aboard any form of transportation, and especially not a cello given its delicate nature.
The most far-fetched part of the story was not that she wasn’t allowed to carry it with her, but rather that there exists the option of paying for a seat for the instrument, and that this fare must be paid in hard currency (CUCs, or convertible Cuban pesos).
This means that they’ll overlook any possible security risks of carrying aboard instruments or other pieces of equipment if these occupy space that’s paid for in cash.
In the end, I never found out if the institution sponsoring the celebration didn’t have the funds to pay for a seat for the cello or if such an absurd mishap made the musician coming to Santiago give up on her plans. The sad thing is that in the concert (revering the language of opera) we had a Dirindina, ma senza chelo.