From conception in France Circa 1785 to performance over 230 years later this Saturday February 2nd at Florida Grand Opera’s opening night in downtown Miami’s Arsht Center, we now know at the very least and with certainty that The Marriage of Figaro eclipses The Marriage of Jeff Bezos. Opera conquers all…
In between, this melodic marriage’s music grows graceful gratitude on the faces of men seeking meaning in a central scene of The Shawshank Redemption film starring Tim Robbins.
Death doesn’t dominate this particular opera. It’s actually considered comedic. And that’s rare for this artform. Nevertheless, as Cuban-born, Miami-based visual artist Leonor Anthony, exhibiting works of hers and colleagues at the upcoming run indicates, it touches on tumultuously timely themes.
“This opera, believe it or not, has a lot to do with the MeToo movement. The Count is actually fondling and trying to sleep with one of the maids who’s getting married. Because back then they had this thing that if you’re a noble and these people live in your castle you have first dibs to sleeping with someone before the husband does,” Leonor reveals.
Pairing the operatic performance with pieces she curates to empower women is part-nature, part-nurture for Leonor, who seems to see this collaboration as a canvass containing stories that must be saved for women to track their place in history. Like a genealogy test for the forgotten. To forge forward furiously with resolve for recognition.
“For me it actually started with the death of Trayvon Martin…my grandfather was a civil rights activist in Cuba in the ‘50s. And my great-grandfather- I have a photo of him with Jose Martí in Jacksonville planning the logistics of the [Cuban] Revolutionary War. So this thing is in my DNA, it just hadn’t kicked in to high gear yet,” she calmly contextualizes.
Some 800 local students watched Marriage’s final dress rehearsal, as Kal Gajraj, FGO’s Director of Marketing and Communications, enthusiastically emotes. And with tickets as inexpensive as $15 a seat, the stage is set for all to see.
In his 2018 book, Temple of the Scapegoat: Opera Stories, German author Alexander Kluge documents how “[t]he oldest opera, performed not in an opera house but in a church, was written in the year 1600. In the following 417 years, around 80,000 operas have been composed.” The essence of all operas, he gets at through the doctoral thesis of Huang Tse-we at the University of Chicago, is “comprehension and passion. The two never go together. Passion overwhelms comprehension. Comprehension kills passion.”
Perhaps then, Leonor Anthony, turning this interview into a jaunt, is opera incarnate. In addition to her own creations, she says, “I’m also including two of my friends, one who has a Mona Lisa,” a model exuberantly exalting women in 2019, this year marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo, as she mentions.
“And my other friend, Ismael Gomez Peralta, his main work is cathedrals of Cuba. So since this is The Marriage…there we go! And my other friend, he’s from Colombia, and his name is Charley Silva. And Charley also has a sculpture that’s like an egg being fertilized, so I figured it would go with the opera itself also,” she gregariously giggles.
Her hero, Leonor says, in the way you might catch your best friend gloating about you upon your delivering on some life-affirming favor, is 1600s Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. “Part of what I’m doing and what I do is hopefully to inspire other girls, other women artists to just go for it. This is not something we chose- it chose us. And to be truly happy you have to do it,” she confides.
As for what’s next, “what I plan to do for [FGO’s March performance of] Frida is to put together- I’ve already talked to six women artists, all Latin women artists…including a transgender woman, artists of all colors…because that also was her- Frida was kind of androgynous and a woman who was very forward-thinking…and I was thinking for opening night of having each artist dress like Frida or their interpretation of Frida. So maybe like a group shot or something like that.” Artemisia approves.