News / Art, Culture

Laura Virella: Opera Pa La Gente

Name : Laura Virella

Age: 25

Roots: Boricua de pura cepa

Where do you live? In Neverland – between Manhattan and the Bronx (Marble Hill)

How long have you been living in NY? A year and a half

How did Project Opera of Manhattan come about?
I started POM last summer as a much needed outlet for young opera singers and other young artists involved in the creation of an opera production. My girlfriend and I had been invited to join a summer program in Italy and were unable to attend because of money, so I said to myself: “Why not put up the show right here?” We decided to brave the odds, with the mission of creating something by young artists for young artists. We bring a breeze of fresh air to the art form, and have pretty much nothing else to offer other than ourselves and the love that we have for what we do. And so, we can provide the people with performances during the summertime (which The Met and City Opera don’t do), and we vow to provide performances of a very high level of intrinsic artistry, both musically and visually.

How many artists are part of POM?
Like other opera companies, POM has singers, designers and orchestra members based on whatever production is being put up at the time. This past summer, in our first season, we put together a concert version of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Barber of Seville) and a full production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at St. Bartholomew’s church in the Upper East Side. For these productions, we had 12 singers, three graphic designers, a director, a conductor, a coach/rehearsal pianist, 30 orchestra members, a musicologist, a stage manager and a set designer—all of them, young artists, between the ages of 23 and 33.

What are your goals with POM?
My short term goal is to be able to continue producing seasons each summer, to continue creating performance and employment opportunities for people like myself, and be able to have the company support itself. When it comes to a long-term goal, I guess I would like for the organization to grow enough so that it can survive even when I myself cannot be here taking care of everything. Above all, I want to make sure that it never stops being run by young artists. The moment it stops being something created by those who need it, it becomes just another Summer Program—and I would hate to see that happen.

Why should we care about opera? Isn’t it a high brow art, inaccessible and not relevant to young people?
What?! Don’t we all love drama?! No, seriously, we should care about opera for the same reasons that we care about Shakespeare and other classics. They are the predecessors to art and music as we know it today. The beauty of the language, music and the themes that it exposes are still the same and equally relevant to all societies: love, war, oppression, honor, political uproar, betrayal, abuse of power, injustice, beauty, human nature and human character. Granted, yes, opera, as well as Shakespeare, has been deprived of its essence over the years, either by insisting on archaic and affected performances or by the sheer disregard of the story-telling or dramatic aspect by the singers. Its message has been violated more than once by pompous producers, directors and owners who think that the more, the flashier, the bigger, the better. But blame not the art form itself—by itself, much of opera is perfect in its simplicity and its sincerity of expression.

The way I see it, the only thing “inaccessible” about opera is the problem of the languages. To that I say, if you can watch a fantastic Almodóvar film with subtitles, if you can sit through La vita e bella and Amélie, then you can most certainly follow an opera with subtitles as well. To me, as a singer, there is nothing more exhilarating than sharing a live art form with the audience, knowing that what we’ve done together in any particular evening will never be the same again. It was one-of-a-kind, created by the energy exchanged between the stage and the audience. It is a living, breathing thing that starts and ends there, only witnessed by those present. And even more, it blows my mind to think about all the people from all sorts of places and backgrounds that have to come together in some sort of cosmic harmony, to make a show happen. We have a connection to those that conceived of it in the past (composer and librettist), and then, we have singers, instrumentalists, set designers, set builders, lighting designers, wardrobe designers, dressers, make-up and hair artists, conductors, directors, stage managers, stage hands, subtitle coordinators, dancers, the list is endless. And I don’t know, but in these times of restlessness in the world, it gives me peace to see how people can come together for the creation of something beautiful.

Favorite opera?
Agh! I can’t choose! It depends on the mood and the times…My longest-loved has been Carmen.

Hottest opera singer right now in your opinion?
Umm…are we talking physically or as a singer?—I’d have to say Patricia Racette (and I didn’t even know she was gay when I started venerating her) and Juan Diego Flórez or Nathan Gunn (grrrrrr… he’s hot in every possible way). Oh, and Marianne Cornetti is not “hot” in the standard way, but man, the woman can SING!

One opera aria we could download to get us into the groove of opera:
It depends on what mood you want to get into…go by singer, not by aria. If you’re going to get into the groove for POM ’s 2007 Season, go get someone singing any of the two Queen of the Night arias…maybe Sumi Jo or Natalie Dessay.

Can you tell us some opera gossip we don’t know about?
I’m so out of it! But can I recommend a hilarious book on opera gossip. Look for Manuela Hoelterhoff’s Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the opera with Cecilia Bartoli.

Last CD you bought:
Pa’fuera telarañas de Bebe (es que estoy arrancá y no he comprado nada de música… pero me paso en el MySpace de Rhen and I just got the last Renée Fleming CD for x-mas).

Last movie you went see: El laberinto del Fauno, or as they call it in Gringolandia, Pan’s Labyrinth.

What are POM’s plans for 2007?
We are currently starting our fund-raising efforts, with the hopes of having a full production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Magic Flute) this coming August. As part of our fund-raising events, we are planning on starting a series of recitals in the Spring. All of these events would be affordable for the audience, as POM relies mostly on the generosity of donors, not ticket sales. Opera is not a dead art form! There’s new opera being written today—kudos to American composer, Tobias Picker, who helps us keep it alive and breathing!

What is a cosmopolatino anyway?
A Latino who is proud in their heritage, but who acknowledges, as Maria Callas said, that they are “citizens of the World.” Or, you know… a hot Latino served in a martini glass ;)

To check out what might be coming up for Project Opera of Manhattan (POM), you can visit projectopera.com or email [email protected] to be put on their emailing list.