Imperialism and its ancillary repression of minorities go hand in hand.

Columbus had never been farther south than Ceuta, a Spanish outpost on the West Coast of Africa, but he had studied geography from a mix of biblical stories and medieval writings that still spoke of the earth as being flat. And now he was sailing uncharted seas, looking for a path to the Indies – the name 15th century Europeans gave to the Orient.

Columbus and his crew endured nearly two months of rancid water, rotten food, vermin, intestinal disorders, insufferable living quarters, and storms, but he was vindicated when Rodrigo de Triana, the lookout on duty on the Pinta cried “Land Ahoy!” On October 28, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on Baracoa beach, on the northeast coast of Cuba, and claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, writing in his diary: “This is the most beautiful land that human eyes ever beheld.” 

He then added: “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands came to capture them, and they defended themselves as best they could. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. “

The Spanish proceeded to enslave all of the indigenous people of Cuba, burning alive those who resisted conversion to Christianity. They forced men, women and children to work from sunrise to sundown. The potentially “good and skilled servants” had grown up sleeping on hammocks, making cassava bread, reaching up to trees laden with guavas and mangos, and harpooning fish with sharpened twigs before barbecuing it.

Within a century more than one hundred thousand natives whose forefathers had inhabited Cuba for over one thousand years died from malnutrition, measles, smallpox, and venereal diseases contracted as a result of the treatment they received at the hands of the Spanish.

Once the Spanish ran out of natives to enslave and ill treat hundreds of thousands of African slaves were imported to Cuba from the Ivory Coast. For exactly four hundred and six years Cuba, the so-called “Pearl of the Antilles”, was subjugated to an occupation that was at best paternalistic and at its worst criminal. Cuba’s frail economy was based primarily on sugar – 40% of the world’s supply in mid-19th century, and reliance on the back-breaking work of more than as quarter million  slaves, while thrtere hundred thousand Spanish settlers held all the economic power.

On December 27, 1868 an uprising, led by the Cuban landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who issued a decree abolishing slavery, led to the Ten Years War.  In 1878 it ended in an uneasy peace, with Spain “promising” greater autonomy to Cuba.

Spain was hands-down the most draconian, brutal, repulsive and repressive colonial power in Latin America, and of all of Spain’s colonies, Cuba was the one possession the Spanish Crown was determined to keep at all costs. But while the rest of the colonies seceded from Spain, Cuba rumbled like a sleeping volcano under the seemingly peaceful surface that gave it the Spanish motto of “Always Most Faithful Island.”

Cuban-born people outlived their Spanish-born parents and grandparents as strong nationalism and anti-Spanish feelings rose even among the Cuban-born, lily-white “criollos” to whom Spain offered a certain measure of stability and protection. The unrest was shared by a nascent middle class tinged with a white and black olor palette and proud to be Cuban and all shades of brown. 

A large contingent of Cuban-born mulattos, the children of Spanish and African mothers and fathers once grown into adulthood were rising up and tragically fighting against their parents who remained on the fence or on the opposite side. The hatred reached a peak especially among the liberated Black population. 

The once idyllic island was becoming a powder keg of rage and defiance. 

The first of three insurrections began In October 1868, led by a white, first generation Cuban landowner, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.  He declared that slavery was abhorrent and abolished, and liberating his slaves welcomed everyone into his army.

White Cubans called it the War of Independence, but it was also a war of black Cubans fighting against the white Spaniards who had enslaved them.  Antonio Maceo, the son of slaves and a gigantic man that Cubans named The Bronze Titan, joined Céspedes and quickly became second in command, giving the Spaniards the fight of their lives. 

Spain had endured overwhelming defeats up and down the South American continent, and Cuba had become the last bastion of Spanish presence in the Americas. The obdurate occupiers were hanging on for dear life to the island they grandiloquently called “The Pearl upon the Royal Spanish Crown.”  That war continued for 10 years, but liberation from Spain was still beyond Cuba’s reach.   Spain made promises for reforms, but they never came, and although Céspedes had declared freedom for slaves, Spain was still in charge, and their emancipation was still not recognized by the occupier.  

The second of those hostilities, led by Calixto García, took place from 1879-1880, and was referred to as the “Little War,” although in many ways it was a continuation of the previous war.  García traveled to New York, where he gathered a group of Cuban exiles determined to liberate their country.  They composed a manifesto, and returned to Cuba to fight the good fight.  Though determined, they were on their own with no allies and few resources.  

The ten-year, two back-to-back struggles left Cubans exhausted, with few weapons and little ammunition. With only the aging García’s leadership, they were again defeated by the Spanish.

Although now twice defeated, Cubans had remained defiant.  The centuries-old fight-to-the-death resolve of their forefathers and the determination of African-born slaves to finally be free spurred them on.  

For a third time, a loosely-knit insurrection began at the end of 1894, and by April 1895, armaments from the United States to aid the rebels were coming by the boatload, mostly into the largely wide-open northern coast of Cuba.

Cubans had gained the sympathy of the United States, which certainly was a factor that would lead to the Spanish American War. On January 28, 1898 the United States sent a battleship “to offer protection to American residents in Cuba.” On the evening of February 15, 1898, the U.S. Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor, killing or maiming most of its 260 crew members.

A board of inquiry reported that the Maine had been destroyed by “a double magazine set off from the exterior of the ship, which could only have been produced by a mine.”  

Spain and the United States declared war on each other. The Spanish–American War was the result of the United States entering the ongoing Cuban War of Independence when U.S. expeditionary forces disembarked in Oriente. After barely two months American forces obtained an immediate and unconditional surrender and Madrid sued for peace, finally losing its last outpost in the American continent.

At the end of the Cuban War of Independence in 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris, under which Spain received $20 million U.S. in exchange for giving up all territorial claims to Cuba. During the Spanish-American War, the United States had maintained a military arsenal in Cuba to protect U.S. holdings. In 1899, President McKinley decided to occupy the island, fearing chaos and the possible rise of a revolutionary government in Cuba.

Some good was done during the American occupation in an effort to turn Cuba into a “self-governing colony.” The United States created sanitation systems, installed a trolley system and set up health care centers. Voting rights were given to all literate, adult, male Cubans with property worth $250 or more, but this resulted in the exclusion of the Afro-Cuban population and the creation of an all-white, all-male, all-wealthy voting majority.

The Platt Amendment was introduced to Congress by Senator Orville H. Platt (R. Connecticut) on February 25, 1901. The Platt Amendment defined the terms of Cuban-U.S. Relations, ensuring U.S. involvement in Cuban affairs, giving legal standing to U.S. claims to several territories on the island. It restricted Cuba in foreign policy and commercial relations, and demanded that Cuba sell or lease such lands to the United States as deemed necessary for the development of naval stations. It imposed a tariff that gave Cuban sugar preference in the U.S. market.

The United States quickly replaced Spain in its role of dominant power over Cuba’s territory.

On May 20, 1902 the Republic of Cuba was born. President Theodore Roosevelt withdrew federal troops from the island, but Cuba was forced to sign a treaty perpetually leasing Guantánamo Bay to the U.S. After the U.S. built a naval base there, American dominance of Cuban affairs became a fact of life. The 1940 Cuban Constitution eliminated the Platt Amendment, but it could not nullify the long-term lease of Guantánamo Bay, which remains to this day in violation of the 1969 Vienna Convention.

Tomás Estrada Palma, a respected veteran of Cuba’s Ten Year War, served as the nation’s first president between 1902 and 1906, during which he made substantial improvements to the depleted infrastructure of the country. Charles Magoon was appointed Cuba’s temporary Governor. Barely four years into its infant democrac, Cuba was already enduring another U.S. intervention.

After a few months, independence was restored, and José Miguel Gómez became Cuba’s second president, but one still facing the threat of another civil war and U.S. intervention, when the Independent Party attempted to establish a separate black republic in Eastern Cuba. President Gómez’ repression was swift and brutal: 6,000 black and mulatto men were massacred by the all-white Cuban Army.

I grew up in an unstable, topsy-turvy country, one blessed with a population of well-meaning, talented, patriotic people who loved their country beyond words, and remained at all times sanguine about the future prospects of their young country, one born out of imperialistic paternalism and cursed by yet another neighbor to the North with an ever watchful eye on things Cuban.

The myopia of the new occupiers prevented them from seeing the Castro juggernaut heading towards Havana in the late 1950’s, yet another wolf in sheep’s clothing that still continues to rule the Pearl of the Antilles and still keeps the black population of roughly 9% living in substandard conditions and out of important positions.

AMOUR ETERNELLE

DELOS will be releasing on June 19th AMOUR ETERNELLE, an album of French and Italian arias featuring the spectacular EKATERINA SIURINA accompanied by the ever supportive Constantine Orbelian, leading the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra.

I had a chance to listen to a media download of this recording and I highly recommend it.

Ekaterina Siurina is a marvelous singer. Blessed with an angelically pure soprano voice, the ascending Russian star opens her album with a stunning rendition of Depuis le jour, from Carpentier’s Louise. She rises with ease to the climactic moment here and elsewhere  in a perfect Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, which she then follows with a poignantly sung though less familiar Roméo! Qu’as-tu donc?, and a flawless Me voilà seule dans la nuit from Les pêcheurs de perles plus a superb aria of Micaela from Bizet’s Carmen.

Perfectly suited to the French lyric soprano repertory, the young soprano moves easily into the slightly heavier Puccini territory of La rondine, La boheme, Turandot (Liu), and an ethereal Salce from Verdi’ Otello, with stellar partnering by her husband Charles Castronovo.

The album is engineered to the usual perfection of Delos.

I can’t breathe!

I can’t breathe! Je peux pas respirer! No puc respirar! Ich kann nicht atmen! Δεν μπορώ να αναπνεύσω  אני לא יכול לנשום  Ek kan nie asemhaal nie!                     ! أنا لا يمكنني التنفس. Nemůžu dýchat! Не мога да дишам! 我不能呼吸! Ne mogu disati! Jeg kan ikke trække vejret! Ik krijg geen adem! Ma ei saa hingata! Hindi ako makahinga! En saa henkeä! मैंसाँसनहींलेसकता! Nem kapok levegőt! Ég get ekki andað! Ní féidir liom análú! Non riesco a respirare! 行きができません! 숨을쉴수없어요!Es nevaru elpot! Negaliu kvėpuoti! Ma nistax nieħu n-nifs! Nie mogę oddychać!Não consigo respirar! Nu pot să respir! Я не могу дышать! Nemôžem dýchať! ¡No puedo respirar! Jag kan inte andas! Nefes alamıyorum! Я не можу дихати!Gallaf i ddim anadlu! I can’t breathe!

Cuban poet and patriot José Martí’s most famous poem: The Maiden from Guatemala

Cuban poet and patriot José Martí’s most famous poem: The Maiden from Guatemala

This is a sort of elegy about young María García Granados, daughter of Guatemalan president Miguel García Granados, who fell in love with Martí while he was a professor at the school that she attended. The schoolgirl’s crush was unrequited, however, and Martí went away to México, to be with Carmen Zayas Bazán, a woman closer to him in age, whom he later married.

On May 10, 1878 Martí returned to Guatemala to attend the funeral of his friend’s daughter, who had died mysteriously. Her well known and unrequited love for Martí branded her as “the one who died brokenhearted.” Following her death, Martí returned to Cuba where he later respectfully penned this poem, which I now offer in my own English translation.

Upon a wing I will let
A story of one who departed
Be told. One of a maiden I met.
She died of grief, brokenhearted

There were lilies in her casket,
There was jasmine still in bloom
Close by in a small basket,
On that dreaded day of gloom.

She gave him a gift to carry,
A sachet, when he departed.
He was going off to marry.
She died of grief, brokenhearted.

Marching in the procession,
Bringing flowers, with respect
Clergy and ambassadors followed
Solemn and circumspect.

She went to a promontory
To meet the dear one departed
He was married. He was sorry.
She died of grief, brokenhearted.

A brightly shining bronze flame
Lit her face, the day he left her.
He swore on his mother’s name
That he would never bereft her.

In a river, late one night
She was found floating, disheartened
Some said: “a chill…or a fright…”
She died of grief, brokenhearted.

Inside of the icy place
He kissed her delicate fingers,
The bier sat upon a dais,
He kissed both her silken slippers

Evening shadows descended
As one more time he departed
He’d left her weeping, abandoned.
She died of grief, brokenhearted.

 

The Poetry of Cuba’s Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda was a 19th-century Cuban writer. A prolific artist she wrote 20 plays and numerous poems. Her most famous work is SAB, the first antislavery novel ever written, which she published in 1841. This is my translation of her sonnet Al Partir (Upon Departure) which inspired the music of the tone poem of the same title written by my friend, Cuban-American composer Yalil Guerra: . https://youtu.be/GFR9U0HsZRA

Star of the West! Beautiful Cuba!
Your brilliant skies obscured
By Night’s opaque veil
Painfully darken my sad countenance.

I depart. The diligent crew hoists the sails
As the awakened breezes,
Hastily summoned from tropical climes
Pluck me away from my birthplace.

Farewell, happy homeland! Beloved Eden!
No matter where the furious fates propel me
Your sweet name will caress my ears.

Now urgently rustle the swelling sails,
The anchor unmoors, and the trembling vessel
Silently and swiftly slices the waves.

More Poetry of Nicolás Guillén

Musical Soul

I’m just a drunkard. I am seduced

By a luminescent blue wine, a mere illusion

That a burst of spring has induced.

In my heart and my future destination

I sing with joy and without cares

A song well suited to a solemn procession

And then I sing of triumphs with fanfares

And harmonize with rhythm any joyous occasion

Even if life my mad soul should batter,

I shall still strum my simple chord

No hands shall pluck me, nothing will matter.

My heartstrings shall throb of their own accord.

When death’s hand with quiet cruelty,

Tears asunder my song-filled breast

And turns me into dust for all eternity,

My song will resonate without rest.

And again and again, in my astral wanderings

I will my longings for harmony fulfill

With cascading musical outpourings

And the simple joy of a tiny trill

The Afro-Cuban poetry of Nicolás Guillén

Guitar

In the middle of the night the firm guitar waits, and then its profound voice wails desperation and wood.

Its enticing feminine waist, upon which a whole nation sighs, pregnant with music, the guitar stretches its hard flesh.                                                                           

Does the guitar burn alone? As the moon vanishes up in the sky, the guitar is set on fire, freed of the ball gown with its cumbersome long train.

The guitar leaves behind the drunkard in his car, the shadowy night club, freezing to death night after night.

The guitar lifts up its fine, universal, Cuban gaze, with no need of opium or pot or cocaine.

Let that old guitar return once more to punish with its music the friend who expects it because he refuses to abandon it!

Standing tall, never stooping, let it bring both laughter and tears and let her dig her dark purple nails into life itself.

Hey, guitar player, pick it up man, wipe the alcohol from its mouth and play your music upon that guitar, the entire song!

Play that song about mature love, play the entire song, the one about an open future, the entire song, with one foot up and the other on the ground, the entire song!

Hey, guitar player, pick it up man, wipe the alcohol from its mouth and play your music upon that guitar, the complete, entire song!

translated by Rafael de Acha

The Cuban author Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989) was one of the most famous writers in Latin America. His poetry made him one of the greatest innovators in Latin American verse. Guillén introduced the world to Afro-Cuban folklore.

NOT FEELING OPTIMISM ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS

NOT FEELING OPTIMISM ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS

After a recent post of ours on Facebook which consisted of reposting and sharing a New York Times piece titled “The Metropolitan Opera Cancels All Fall Performances” I received a handful of memes by way of response.

One friend commented “I heard this yesterday. So very sad. What is going to happen to all of the arts?”

In reply to that friend’s comment, another one came from someone living in Germany – an American opera singer, now retired – who stated: “Optimist here. They will recover. After the wars in Europe, the people were hungry for our brand of music.”

The news at this time is not good, and the uncertain future does not show signs of anything resembling a recovery. The arts in our country have always lived precariously, and now more than ever before they are barely surviving under grave circumstances.

The National Endowment for the Arts has had declining resources over the past several years, with Trump’s 2019 “Major Savings and Reforms” slashing the NEA’s budget from $150 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019.

Having helmed a successful, award-winning, professional theatre for two decades I can just imagine what a profound impact this budget cut will have on arts institutions – large and small- across our country.

Even the giant institutions – the Metropolitan Opera, the major symphony orchestras, the larger regional theatres, the majority of our museums are literally bleeding: technical, artistic, and administrative personnel indefinitely on furlough, donors suffering from catastrophic losses in their investment portfolios, no relief in sight from federal, state, or county funding sources.

If we look at the facts about Germany’s reconstruction after WWII we can quickly come to terms with the vast differences between the decades-long post-war recovery of a European nation after a cataclysmic war and an at best uncertain and slow post-pandemic recovery not only of our country but our world in 2020.

I so wish I could share the optimism of the friend living in Germany. But I can’t.

REMEMBERING GREAT PERFORMANCES

REMEMBERING GREAT PERFORMANCES – THE MALE ACTORS (part one)

I single out here some of those unsung heroes whose work will only be remembered by some who saw them on stage in South Florida.

For me the memory of their performances is as vivid and as important as that of those of better known stage actors whose names you might easily recognize.

Theatre though is unforgiving when it comes to remembering. Film can be preserved and revisited and watched over and over. Theatre is ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Only by writing about it I can bring back memories of Carlos Orizondo – the actor who returned to South Florida theatre after an absence of a couple of years to do his best work: a superb Iago in Othello, a chilling Edmond in King Lear. As it happens with wine and actors, the older the vintage, the more complex and richer the drink.

They say about some roles that when you are old enough to play them you are too old to play them. I cast James Randolph as King Lear when he was not old enough to play the aged monarch. But through hard work James delivered a performance marked with dignity and gravitas. His Othello was strong and vulnerable at the same time. In Taking Sides, James played a role normally assigned to a white actor: James made it work despite the disbelievers.

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Steve Gladstone is blind. But as an actor he has 20-20 inner vision. He played a fierce, uncompromising, memorable Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and for the first time in his career the part of a blind person in Mario Diament’s Blind Date.

Matthew Wright’s acting turns as twin brothers John and James Jekyll in Terrence McNally’s LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!, as Prior Walter in ANGELS IN AMERICA, as and as Claudius in HAMLET, showed his ability to move from the tragic to the comic and to balance both in some parts, as he did as Prior in Angels in America.

Matthew Wright as Prior Walter (right) with James Randolph (left) as Belize in ANGELS IN AMERICA

David Kwiat’s first appearance with New Theatre was in THREE HOTELS by Jon Robin Baitz. He followed that with Roy Cohn in ANGELS IN AMERICA, Jamie Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, and in both Mario Diament’s BLIND DATE and SMITHEREENS.David’s quirky, dangerous, no holds-barred acting in those roles is still vivid in my memory.

Carlos Orizondo as Iago and James Randolph as Othello

The Jupiter String Quartet magically plays Beethoven and Ligeti.

SnDJEKig.jpegThe Jupiter String Quartet delivers in a new Marquis Classics release a noble performance filled with gravitas that never lapses into self-importance.

One of Beethoven’s favorite quartets, the Op. 131 in C-sharp Minor, is  a late in life work that seems to embody in sound the composer’s ever untiring journey into still-to-be discovered musical territory.

Listening to the opening of the first movement, with the instruments entering one by one, the oneiric image of four persons entering a dense forest at night is brought to mind by the tonal vagueness of the composition. Marked C sharp minor the movement makes the musical path of the players all the more unsettling by laying down dissonance after dissonance that gets slowly and almost reluctantly resolved.

The Jupiter players, like the god of antiquity after which they name themselves are masterful at keeping their individuality even while entering the terra incognita of this composition. That entrance marks the beginning of a most unusual creation – a string quartet in seven sections that meld one into the next in at times brooding, later meditative passages that always refuse the players an easy way out of the all-encompassing density. Composed one year before his death at the age of 57, this quartet reveals a soul struggling to make peace with its creator though uncertain of what that might mean.

The second movement – a D major Allegro in 6/8 time that aims to be lively is still imbued with a melancholia that holds back every moment of mirth as if to remind the listener that its brevity is akin to that of our time on this planet: short and eventful. The third movement stuns with its blunt brevity and its tug of war between joy and pain all in the key of B minor.

What follows next is a fourteen-minute musical journey led by the first violin through seven diverse tempi in one key. An Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile segues to a più mosso, an Andante moderato e lusinghiero, an Adagio, an Allegretto, another Adagio, and one more Allegretto.

A restless Presto in Emajor, an Adagio in G sharp minor in ¾ time, and a straightforward, march-like though finally restful return to the original key of c sharp minor bring this monumental work to its precipitous, unsettling end after three quarters of an hour that symbolize the life journey of a human being from cradle to grave.

György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses nocturnes.” (Nocturnal Metamorphosis) completes the album with its compellingly harsh 20th century mix of tonal ambivalence contained in seventeen interconnected movements.

Its music calls for muscular playing and chameleonic changes of attack and intention and the Jupiter String Quartet astonishes with its magically virtuosic playing and its fastidiously meticulous musicianship in one of the finest albums this listener has heard thus far in this troubled 2020.

Rafael de Acha