Opera de la Calle and a Show for Beyoncé

Fernando Ravsberg*

The show that was put on by the “Opera de la Calle” (Opera in the Street) troupe was performed at the Arenal Theatre, a run-down cinema. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Beyonce’s trip to Cuba was an attention grabbing event, despite the singer’s request for discretion. Nobody in Havana talked about anything else as they watched her walk down Obispo Street, eat at the La Guarida restaurant and try to slip out through the back entrance of an art gallery.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the most radical right-wing exiles and their representatives in Congress began threatening to apply the full weight of the law if they discovered the singer had visited Cuba without permission to travel here – as is required of US citizens by their government.

In the middle of her dash across the city, runnning here and there, I got a phone call from Ulises Aquino, the director of the “Opera de la Calle” (Opera in the Street). He was informing me that they would be reopening their space because Beyonce had asked to see their show. He asked me to be very discrete with that information, not wanting crowds to show up. Only a small group of special guests would be invited.

For me the big news was that the government was going to allow the company to perform in the Cabildo, a venue that had been closed for months for alleged “illicit enrichment.” Actually, they also had a restaurant there that enabled them to pay about $80 USD a month to each member of the opera.

The closing of the facility had left the musicians, singers, dancers, the lighting crew and sound engineers with their state wages of $17 a month, while all the waitresses and cooks ended up on the street.

Ulises Aquino said the Provincial Communist Party and Havana’s city government were the entities preventing them from using the Cabildo. Photo: Raquel Perez

I thought this may have been a chance happening or “manifest destiny” because their space, El Cabildo, had been closed down on an evening when a delegation from the Pastors for Peace (a pro-Cuban government humanitarian group from the United States) was watching a performance and now they were reopening it with the arrival of a famous singer from that same country.

However, when I mentioned it at home, no one attached any importance to the issue. Instead, everyone asked me to take them to see Beyonce – so I ended up accompanying the four women in my family to go see her. I was too late in understanding why Aquino had asked me for the utmost discretion.

Things changed at noon on Friday, April 5. I got a got another phone call informing me that the show would be at the Arenal Cinema. I figured that bad weather must have forced them from the Cabildo, a charming but out-of-doors facility unprotected from downpours.

At that point I still didn’t know that the storm caused that had caused the change of venue had more to do with the nature of men than with Mother Nature. Nevertheless, at the door of the theater I found Aquino with a small group of people, all obviously enraged.

I went up to them and they started telling me that they had coordinated with the Ministry of Culture to reopen Cabildo to hold a show for Beyonce. However several officials had appeared later that morning telling them they couldn’t use the center.

According to Aquino, he had been told that — by direct order of the Havana Provincial Government and the Communist Party of the capital — that the Cabildo was to remain closed no matter who had authorized its reopening and despite whoever was supposedly coming to see the show.

While some authorities continue their crusade against the Opera de la Calle, Havana continues to suffer some real problems. Photo: Raquel Perez

That’s how it ended for those of us invited to the Arenal – sitting on iron or plastic chairs in the middle of semi-dilapidated hall with cracked walls and ceilings. I thought that with a little luck, and if nothing fell on her head, Beyonce would at least experience a truly “bohemian” atmosphere.

At around 9:00 p.m. — without the singer, but precisely as scheduled — the show started…an hour of music, song and dance that fused cultures and rhythms as diverse as African religious songs, opera and rock.

Beyonce missed it (they say she went to another concert), but we’ll never know if it was merely by chance or if someone saw it fit to discourage her from seeing a group of artists who, right now, are completely pissed off.

In the meantime, while some authorities expend their energies on the crusade against the “Opera in Street,” public transportation is still highly deficient, trash is piling up in the streets, inspectors are becoming corrupt, and hoarders are emptying the stores.

(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

One thought on “Opera de la Calle and a Show for Beyoncé

  • Wow, what a strange and pathetic tale that is. It’s difficult to see how life in Cuba will improve when officialdom continues to be so punitive, arbitrary and arrogant. Instead of facilitating an event which could have helped the cultural and economic conditions of the city, the officials decided to ruin it all. How pathetic.

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