When Caruso came to sing in Havana my father traveled by train the 838 kilometers between his home town of Santiago and the capital. It was a 12 hour overnight ride with many stops along the way – one that I made myself many years later when I went to visit my grandmother and all the uncles and aunts and cousins who lived in my father’s birthplace.

My father was then 15, the year was 1920 and the government of President Mario Garcia Menocal was having troubles, especially in the capital, when students at the University were rioting, demanding changes in the regime and its draconian policies.

It was the so-called Period of the Fat Cows, when the Cuban economy was flush and the price of Cuban sugar in the world market was at an all time high. Things were good for a privileged upper class that loved to wear their finest regalia for the annual opera season – white tie and tails for the gentlemen, long gowns and furs for the ladies. That was the dress code back then in Havana’s tropical fall, when the thermometer tops 80 in the evenings.

The 1915 season saw the inauguration of the newly refurbished Tacon Theatre, a jewel-box built in 1776 that was brought back to life 144 years later by the high society that had missed a proper venue to listen to Verdi and Puccini.

Caruso and company arrived by ship on May 5, 1920. Signor Grattale had negotiated a fee of $10,000 per performance – ten of AIDA in Havana, and a pair of concerts, one in Santa Clara, one in Cienfuegos.

Caruso was in good and starry company, with baritone Riccardo Stracciari, basso Jose Mardones, soprano Maria Barrientos and mezzo-soprano Gabriela Bensanzoni. Maestro Tulio Serafin was the conductor.

Tickets were priced at 25 pesos (25 pesos equaled $25 back then) which was about the average monthly salary of a laborer. Scalpers were asking $60 a pop.

Meanwhile, my father and his oldest sibling (of eleven) “Albertico” were hoping that they could make it to Havana in time to snap up a couple of seats, even in what Cubans called the “gallinero” (chicken coop) section of the upper reaches of the theatre.

No such luck. All ten performances were sold out.

Disappointed, the two boys decided to give Verdi a shot anyway and they stood outside the theatre on opening night, hoping to catch a last minute cancellation, only to find out there was a crowd standing just outside the box office nurturing the very same hope.

When curtain time came, Caruso heard the hubbub of the crowd just outside the theatre and, to the amazement of everyone, demanded that the front and side doors of the august National Theatre be opened so that the crowd outside could hear the performance. For free.

Caruso’s request was obeyed and the doors were opened. My father and uncle, along with several hundred other Cuban opera fans listened in rapture to the biggest voiced cast of Aida ever, sitting on the grass, benches and sidewalks of a Havana city park in 1920.

The two de Acha brothers lingered outside the stage door of the theatre hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the stars. Back in those days, young men and women followed opera stars the way our young folks today follow rock singers.

Mardones, Stracciari, Barrientos, Bensanzoni and Maestro Serafin came out the stage door and waved to the cheers of the crowd. They were then promptly whisked away in Packard limousines that carried them to an after-theatre party at the Pennino Family Estate, with the President and the who’s who of Havana society in attendance.

The next day my father and uncle did the typical sightseeing that Cuban boys from the provinces would do at that time. And then it was back on the train to Santiago and back to school.

Exactly 33 years later, a boy of fifteen, the only child and namesake of my father, was introduced to Opera in Havana, in the Auditorium Theatre (now named Amadeo Roldan Theatre).

The opera was AIDA. Renata Tebaldi sang the title role. Again not only the two or three performances of AIDA, but all of LA TRAVIATA and all of ADRIANA LECOUVREUR – all three – were sold out.

I managed to sweet-talk an usher into letting me in. The only empty seat in the house was one in the presidential box, which was not occupied that afternoon by President Batista, who must have been busy fighting the revolution of the week.

Like my father before me and my grandfather before him on that day of that fifteenth year of my life I became a lifelong convert to Opera.

Rafael de Acha




On the upcoming occasion of Shakespeare’s Anniversary of both his birth and death (April 23), I found these quotes from the writer who wrote the most musical language of any of them all.

Here they are, with contemporary punctuation and spelling.


“Orpheus with his lute made trees and the mountains that freeze bow themselves when he did sing. To his music plants and flowers ever sprung, as sun and showers, there (they) had made a lasting spring. Everything that heard him play, even the billows of the sea, hung their heads and then lay by. In sweet music is such art, killing care and grief of heart fall asleep or hearing die.” (Henry VIII, III, i)


Music often hath such a charm to make good and good provoke to harm.” (Merchant of Venice, IV, i)


“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here we will sit and let the sounds of music creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night become the touches of sweet harmony.” (Merchant of Venice, V, i)


The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are as dull as night, and his affections as dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.” (Merchant of Venice, V, i)


How sour sweet music is when time is broke and no proportion kept! So it is in the music of men’s lives.” (Richard II, V, v)


How silver-sweet lovers’ tongues by night, (are) like softest music to attending ears! (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii)







This past week I accompanied my wife, Kimberly on a quick visit to NYC. The main reason was to be there for the 25th Annual CCM Musical Theatre Showcase. As part of the long weekend, some two dozen former students of Kimberly Daniel de Acha surprised her with a brunch honoring her upcoming retirement after 48 years (yes, I said forty-eight years) in the arts, first as a singer-actress who performed in and sang everything from Baroque Opera to show music, then as a Voice professor first at the New World School for the Arts, then at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and, most recently, at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.

Then there were the two showcases, one at 3 pm, one at 6 pm, where the 2017 Musical Theatre Senior Class performed in front of a score of NYC casting agents. Word has it the performances elicited a positive response from many of the artist management reps who attended.



At Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below, there was a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the CCM Musical Theatre Showcase, where many former CCM students who have become successfully active Broadway performers over the past quarter century sang two different shows to a capacity audience.

It wasn’t just simply an evening of song after song strung together, but rather an homage to the creative team of Steven Flaherty and Lyn Ahrens, the composer-lyricist pair that has given us a legacy of great shows, including the now-on-stage Anastasia, and the past hits Seussical, Rocky, Ragtime, and Once on this Island, plus scores of songs for other Broadway, film and TV shows.

There were many, many wonderful moments that evening, including show-stopping turns by Max Clayton, John Riddle, Julian Decker, Grady Long, Kathryn Boswell and Kimber Elayne Sprawl.


And then, of course, there were several opportunities to see what’s on Broadway right now. With only three days with which to work, there were only three evenings and one matinee to squeeze into our schedule.

First of all we saw and loved and highly recommend the still-in-previews ANASTASIA. With lovely music and smart lyrics by the award-winning team of Steven Flaherty and Lyn Ahrens, and an intriguing book by Terrence McNally, adapted from the 1997 film, the show takes a genteel and elegant approach to the less than gentle story of the murder of Czar Nicholas and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 Revolution.

The ensuing disappearance of the Princess Anastasia has been the subject matter of many books, plays and films, which is also the case here, though one given an unpredictable though happy ending. A terrific ensemble cast brings the show to life under the direction of Darko Tresnyak. We couldn’t brave the nose-bleed seats (at $69) though a very youthful audience did, filling the Broadhurst Theatre to capacity.

We were wedged into orchestra seats at $$$ a pop not quite made for a six-footer with orthopedic issues, but the enchanting show made our physical discomfort quickly vanish, especially as we watched our friend Kathryn Boswell, cover for the title role in her second Broadway fling as a member of the ensemble.


We took in ON YOUR FEET, Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s story about how a little band that could by the name of Miami Sound Machine turned itself into the most successful Latin group in show business history. Ana Villafañe and Ektor Rivera helm a smoking hot ensemble of singing and dancing Latinos under the direction of Jerry Mitchell and choreographer Sergio Trujillo.

As much a show (book by Alex Dinelaris), as it is a concert of Estefan/Miami Sound Machine hits, the evening flows as easily as Cuban rum and coke does in a Miami fiesta. The temperature outside the theatre was Nordic but inside the Marquis it was comfortably warm (or hot) depending on how your pulse rate rose to the beat of the unending Salsa music. Ours was as steady as the rhythm of our feet, even while seated.

After the show we had a drink with cast members Henry Gainza and Omar Lopez-Cepero, both friends from our days in South Florida.


Andrew Lloyd Weber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD is vintage A.L.W. given a nice edge by the presence of Glen Close in the role of faded movie star Norma Desmond.

The show, still in previews, has a limited run, and, judging by the advance sales and the capacity crowds (even during previews) it would be safe to bet that regardless of what the critics say, it has a good chance of running for a while, especially if a star of the same high wattage can be found to replace Ms. Close once she is off to her next project.

That said, no snarky comments are needed. We did not think much of the show nor deluded ourselves into thinking that Ms. Close can sing. She can’t, although she can chew up the scenery like there’s no tomorrow. The dancing-singing ensemble is top-notch, including (full disclosure) our clarion-voiced friend, Julian Decker in the role of Myron.


As much as I wasn’t crazy about the A.L.W. show, we immensely enjoyed WAR PAINT. On one level, the  show, with a wonderful book by Doug Wright is about the unto-death-do-us-part rivalry between cosmetic gurus Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. Beyond that, though, the musical is an edgy, unapologetic celebration of the resilience and warts-and-all determination of two extraordinarily brilliant and nasty women-entrepreneurs who rose from nothing – Rubinstein from abject poverty in the Jewish ghetto in her native Poland, Arden from a Canadian farming backwater – to become American success stories.

Two such larger than life figures require equally sizeable talents to portray them in words and music. Patty Lupone as Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Arden turn out superlative performances that, under the firm hand of director Michael Greif never ever cross the red line into grandstanding. The production, still in previews, blessed with exquisite costumes by Catherine Zuber, several of which are worn with beaucoup style by our friend Stephanie Park – a standout in the ensemble, has all the markings of a Broadway hit.

Here’s hoping.

Rafael de Acha