Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Before Night Falls
Based on the works of the Cuban dissident Reinaldo Arenas, the libretto covers his childhood amidst the steaming, populace of Cuba as well as the governmental oppression that made him, and so many others, leave for the United States. The fact that he was not only a political dissident, but a gay man, made his escape imperative.
In 1980, he managed to get to America as a young adult, by changing one letter in his last name, since he was known to the government as a gay problem. By spelling his last name as "Arinas" rather than "Arenas" he made it to the boat lift and the relative safety of Manhattan. Unfortunately, he traded one hell for another and died of AIDS not long after arriving.
There were many empty seats after intermission at the performance I attended, and I think it behooves contemporary composers to think a bit more melodically and write arias, as the attending audiences know them; this is opera, after all. The character who should have been the most compelling, Arenas himself, primarily kvetches each time he sings and after a while, becomes, musically as well as dramatically, monotonous. This takes nothing away from Elliot Madore who sings the role. I lay blame on Mr. Martin, solely.
As for the other performers, they are well rehearsed and sound splendid. Though there is a dearth of "beautiful music," the evening is saved by the three male leads' aria, "Unhappy Island," a gorgeous, melodic piece. I wanted more of the same, but Mr. Martin concentrated more on the political tribulations Arenas suffered through. I wish he had given us more of Arenas himself and less political sturm und drang, more about what made him who he turned out to be. Transitions of age have been used by great composers and the music is often lovely.
While I am harping, there are two "muses" in Arenas' head, personified by Elizabeth Caballero (who doubles as his mother) as The Moon, and Melissa Fajardo as The Sea. While both have beautiful voices, their appearances tend toward the tedious by opera's end. One slip up of the otherwise terrific director David Gately is to have Ms. Fajardo come out for her curtain call, two singers before Ms. Caballero. Bad form. They, most certainly, should share the bow. I felt for Ms. Fajardo.
Under the musical direction of Maestro Christopher Allen, making his FGO debut, the orchestra plays magnificently. This is not an easy score, for the musicians, singers or audience. Essentially a drama with music, there are several standouts in the cast. First and foremost is Dinyar Vania as Ovidio, Arenas' mentor and friend. A gorgeous voice combined with superb diction, by doing very little onstage he always maintains focus. As Victor, the villain of the piece, Calvin Griffin is equally superb. In this day and age, how an audience can "boo" the villains at curtain call in an opera is beyond me. Grow up! Both men are exceptional.
This is an opera I would like to see again. The fact that it has not been done in seven years is an important fact that Mr. Martin should take seriously. The events are, most certainly, timely. If he were to re-visit his piece, add some warmer, likeable music for his protagonist, his and Mr. Arenas' stories might be heard by a larger audience. I certainly hope so. This is more than a noble effort on Florida Grand Opera's part. This is a story that has to be told. And told. All are to be commended.
Before Night Falls continues through March 25, 2017, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 3100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL. Please call, locally, 305-949-6722 or 1-800-741-1010. Their website is www.fgo.org.