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This project was successfully funded on July 5, 2017

Opera performance in Cuba

by Matthew Lata


This project has been two years in the making.   Last year, we presented a concert of arias and ensembles at the Sala Lecuona - a concert hall in the Gran Teatro de la Habana in Havana, Cuba. Cosponsors were the Teatro Lirico Nacional de la Cuba and musicians from Florida State University.   Four singers and a pianist from the US joined seven Cuban singers in a performance that included music from both countries.   We spent a week and a half working with our Cuban colleagues and sharing our knowledge and culture.  The full concert can be seen through this URL:  The event was such a success that the management at the Lirico has invited us to perform a fully staged production this year.

Outside of Image of "El Gran Teatro".



FELICIA GAVILANES, Mezzo-soprano, is a Boston Lyric Opera Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artist. Roles include First Bridesmaid and Cherubino (cover) in The Marriage of Figaro (Boston Lyric Opera); Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Baba the Turk (The Rake’s Progress), Tisbe (la Cenerentola), Florida State Opera; Mrs. DeRocher (Dead Man Walking), Asakir (Sumeida’s Song), Boston Opera Collaborative; Flora (La traviata, Opera Providence); “Mozart in the Jungle,” (Tallahassee Symphony), Maria in Lauda per la natività (Gulfshore Opera); Alto Soloist in Haydn’s Paukenmesse (Fine Arts Chorale); Queen Jezebel/Angel in Mendelssohn's Elijah (Tallahassee Community Chorus). Ms. Gavilanes is a winner of Mobile Opera’s Madame Rose Competition, finalist in MetroWest Opera Competition, and recipient of Gallaher Award, Beaulieu Award and Edith S. Joel Fellowship in Opera.

ERIKA VASALLO:  Erika Vasallo graduated from UF/NWSA-College Division, with a BM in Vocal Performance. At NWSA Erika performed the pants role of Volpino in Lo Speziale, as well as other various opera scenes. She has also performed several times with The Opera Atelier, singing opera scenes and a preview of the opera Le nozze di Figaro as Cherubino, and debuted as a chorister for the Florida Grand Opera in Norma. Erika is pursuing her Master’s in Vocal Performance at FSU, where she received a graduate teaching assistantship, and has performed in the chorus of La Traviata and the role of Female Emilia in Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players.

MCKENNA MILICI is a soprano originally from Seattle, WA. She has sung with Florida State Opera, the FSU University Symphony Orchestra, and the Oregon East Symphony. She has recently performed the roles of Clorinda in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Lady with a Cakebox in Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco, Pamina in a children’s adaptation of The Magic Flute, and Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor. McKenna currently attends Florida State University as a PhD student in Musicology supported by a Legacy Fellowship. Her research focuses on 21st century American opera.  

RAHIM MANDAL is a graduate of Loyola New Orleans (’13) where he studied under Professor Dreux Montegut and received his Master’s degree (’17) studying with renowned baritones, Daniel Belcher and David Okerlund. Rahim Mandal has already made his debut with New Orleans Opera as Ham from Britten’s Noye’s Fludde celebrating his centennial. Rahim debuted with FSU singing Dandini in La Cenerentola and recently sang the role of Germont in La traviata. Mr. Mandal has been a soloist in several concerts but most notably performed at Plácido Domingo’s Gala in New Orrleans Opera where he sang the role of Maximilian in the Finale of Candide by Leonard Bernstein.

 MAGGIE ELISABETH SMITH, mezzo-soprano and native of Louisville, KY, is a first-year Masters student in Voice Performance at Florida State University where she studies with Professor Shirley Close. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Music Education. In April, Maggie was the featured alto soloist in Bach's St. John's Passion with Tallahassee Community Chorus. Earlier in April, she was the mezzo-soprano soloist for John Corigliano's Fern Hill with FSU Chamber Choir. In February, Maggie was the featured alto soloist in Bach's Actus Tragicus with the FSU Chamber Choir. Recent roles include the Mother in Hansel and Gretel with FSU Opera Outreach, Annina in La traviata with FSU Opera, Tisbe in La Cenerentola with Bayview Music Festival, and Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables with University of Kentucky Opera Theatre. Other performance credits include The Tales of Hoffmann, Suor Angelica, and Falstaff with UK Opera Theatre.  

The management of the Lirico has proposed the English Baroque opera DIDO AND AENEAS, by Henry Purcell,  together with a group of English and Spanish Baroque arias. The Cubans chose the piece because it was approachable, singable, and would serve artists from all areas - vocal, dance, orchestral, and design.    We will be featured on the mainstage of the Gran Teatro - the most important classical stage in the country.  There will be two performances, one with a cast of principals from Cuba - including the "Primo soprano" of the National Opera Company, and one with a cast of singers from the USA.  Both performances will also feature smaller roles sung by young Cuban singers from their school, members of the chorus of the Nacional Opera, musicians from the National Symphony, and dancers from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.  They will also provide scenic design and technical and administrative support.   The first half of the program will feature arias and ensembles sung concert style by singers from both countries.  We are honored by this invitation to perform at this important venue, and hope that it will lead to future collaborations, including bringing young Cuban singers to the United States.

The Main stage of "El Gran Teatro"

All we have to do is get there and provide our housing.   The cost will be approximately $3000 for housing for the weeks we will be in Havana and an additional $2000 for plane fare and other travel expenses.   We would be deeply grateful for any help with the project.