A Surprise at the Opera in Leon, Nicaragua
By Martin Gunnarsson Kulldorff*
HAVANA TIMES – As a foreigner spending a few relaxing days in León this month, I had the opportunity to see an opera at the Municipal Theater. They were performing Luisa Fernanda, a romantic Spanish Zarzuela from the 1930s. It was a very enjoyable production, but there was one confusing aspect. Something that was very strange!
The small Camerata Bach orchestra played the beautiful music wonderfully well. The choir, Gran Coro INCANTO, was excellent, with some of its member doing a great job doubling in minor roles, including Nelson Escobar as El Saboyano. A small dance troupe added color and movement on the stage.
Of the lead singers, Lisbeth Barríos was fantastic as the Duchess Carolina, while Elisa Picado and Josue Osorio did very well in the roles of Luisa Fernanda and Don Vidal. The confusing part was the singer in the lead male role of a Spanish soldier, Coronel Javier Moreno, who in the end recaptures the heart of his previously beloved Luisa Fernanda.
He sang better than I could have done, and he was in tune, but even though I was sitting close to the front I could not hear a third of what he was singing, and when he did increase the volume, as opera singers sometimes must do, it was not pleasant. Why would they cast such a weak singer for the leading male role, with a voice one might except to hear in a high school production? It made absolutely no sense at all.
The only time when his weak and hardly audible voice had some theatrical purpose was in a scene at the end of the second act when the towns people were confronting the soldier, with the choir energetically singing muera!, muera!, muera! towards a gradually withering Coronel.
I typically applaud everyone after a show, but at the roll call for the Coronel, my hands stayed still as I could not be that hypocritical. The Nicaraguan audience was more generous, politely applauding. When leaving the theater, I was additionally confused when seeing a female solder with a heavy weapon descending from the balcony. Why would the military be at the opera, and armed to the teeth? Very strange.
When realizing that the name of the lead male singer was Laureano Ortega, I got suspicious and did a google search, even though it is a common last name. As it turns out, it was the son of the president singing!
A few days later, Nicaragua was playing Cuba at the León Baseball stadium. It was an exciting game with excellent players, ending in a 1-1 tie. Luckily, none of the Nicaraguan players were named Ortega, in which case Cuba surely would have won. For a country to do well, it should always use the best available talent.
In the Camerata Bach orchestra and the Gran Coro INCANTO, Nicaragua has two wonderful treasures. It is important to promote art and culture and nice when members of the presidential family take a personal interest in such matters. Rather than taking center stage for themselves though, they could make room for and promote new, younger and stronger talent. Considering the quality of the INCANTO choir, there is plenty of such underutilized talent in Nicaragua, and that bodes well for the future of the country.
*Martin Gunnarsson Kulldorff is a Swedish citizen who adores the culture, history and natural beauty of Nicaragua, and the friendliness, hospitality and passion of its people.