In 1957 I was a fourteen year old kid living in Havana. It was July, school was out, and it must have been blazingly hot. In the countryside Castro’s revolution was gaining momentum with the Castro Brothers and Che Guevara up in the mountains of eastern Oriente Province, and Camilo Cienfuegos leading a new outbreak of guerrilla warfare in Las Villas province.

In Havana the students in the public high schools and the universities were starting to make trouble for the government, but in Catholic La Salle School, where I had just finished my first year of high school we were mostly oblivious to what was happening outside the school’s walls.

At fourteen I had inherited my love for opera from my father and from his father, Don Alberto de Acha, who had left us a vast collection of 78’s which I played on an old Victrola and sang along with in our second floor apartment in El Vedado, to the consternation of our neighbors. And it was the time for the annual Opera Season at the Auditorium Theatre, presented by the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical.

The main attraction was the Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, who surrounded by a mix of then up and coming young American singers (Norman Treigle, Walter Cassel, Nell Rankin, Robert Merrill) would be singing AIDA, LA TRAVIATA, and TOSCA all three within the span of a week.

By the time I heard about this major musical event all the performances were sold out. Undaunted I took a bus to the theatre on a Sunday afternoon hoping to catch a returned ticket to LA TRAVIATA.

Not a chance.

I must have looked close to tears when a lady usher took one look at me and taking me by the hand led me to the mezzanine of the theatre and into a box where a European-looking gentleman sat, wearing a white linen suit. It was the presidential box I had entered, but President Batista who supposedly hated opera was not in attendance.

Who the well-dressed gentleman seated in the same box with me was I have no idea to this day.

The cast, by the way, had Tebaldi in the title role, Robert Merrill as Germont, and an Italian tenor whose name I cannot remember (and never heard again) who must have been a protégée of Tebaldi’s since he sang the tenor leads in all three of the operas (which makes no sense at all). The sets were rickety with backdrops depicting Parisian landscapes (for La traviata), ancient Egypt (for Aida) and 1800 Rome (for Tosca) that swayed to the movement of the singers.

But in spite of the general tackiness of the staging, I was transfixed from the moment Fausto Cleva gave the downbeat for the prelude to Act one of La traviata.

That turned out to be my very first live opera and it made me a convert for life.

Here she is in a live performance in 1957:

Rafael de Acha      http://www.RafaelMusicNotes


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If you have never seen Alceste, you ought to have a look/listen at this fairly recent production of Gluck’s 1737 opera about the faithful love unto death between King Admeto and his beloved Queen Alceste.

By the time the German-born Gluck reigned supreme in Parisian theatres, the singer-centric ways of his predecessors had all but given way to a more straightforward marriage of text and music, with no showy singing pyrotechnics or vocal grandstanding anywhere within earshot

Here Alceste is given an elegant staging by director/designer Pier Luigi Pizzi, with the orchestra and chorus of the gorgeous La Fenice theatre nicely led by the young French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire. The production features in the central roles of the King and Queen of Thessaly, tenor Marlin Miller and soprano Carmela Remigio, both excellent singing actors.


You don’t have to be a Mozart connoisseur to appreciate the fact that the one-act opera Il Sogno di Scipione (Scipio’s Dream) has some riches worth discovering, including a dozen arias and a couple of choruses that have the Mozart signature written all over them.

Amazingly Mozart wrote this while still an unknown youth in Salzburg, but most likely never saw a full staging of this youthful work. Here, thanks to the enterprising La Fenice theatre you will enjoy the efforts of a promising cast of half a dozen young singers ideally suited to Mozart’s vocal writing in an unfussy, good looking production staged by Elena Barbalich. They are beautifully led by Federico Maria Bardelli.

As is the case with many other Opera Vision offerings one can also watch Il Sogno di Scipione on You Tube.



Antonello Manacorda magisterially leads the superb orchestra of Brussels’ La Monnaie, and Tobias Kratzer helms this modern-dress production of Lucio Silla, Mozart’s 1772 rarity about lust for flesh and power in ancient Rome.

The six-person cast of four sopranos and two tenors calls for some formidable singers to sing virtuosic music and to portray a sorry lot of less than palatable characters in a convoluted plot involving political wrongdoings, love betrayals and little in the way of redeemable human qualities.

The production is preceded by a video that shows all manner of signs of wealth and power including scenes of the Kennedy clan in their Hyannis Port swimming pool, Vladimir Putin shucking oysters, shiny Mercedes limousines, Kim Jong-Ung beaming at the camera, and other disconcerting imagery. Worth checking out..? Yes, if only to bask in the genius of the mature Mozart.

Rafael de Acha