A night at the opera

01/Octubre/2012 | 12:28

By Lance Brashear

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There are few people who make a living as an artist in Ecuador and probably fewer still who receive the kind of overtures that husband and wife opera singers, Juan Carlos Arellano and Abigail Rosero receive.

“Something interesting happened to me [one night],” says Arellano.  “A spectacular woman, perhaps 60 years of age, but looking spectacular, arrived, dressed as if it were the 1920s, with her husband in front of her.  As I was singing opera she took my hand and began to pull me.  I got nervous…I leaned down to listen to what she wanted to tell me and she planted a kiss on my mouth.”

Rosero saw the entire thing from across the room. 

She says in turn, “A German, an older man, said to me that he had never heard anything so beautiful [as my voice].  He was a perfume maker.  He said I am going to make a perfume – a perfume just for you.  He wrote to me recently saying he was importing two fragrances from France and that next week he would send me the samples for me to approve.”

She continues: “On another occasion a Japanese composer and director of a Japanese orchestra came.  He said, ‘I am entranced by your voice and your beauty.  I am going to compose a symphony [for you].’”

Arellano listens to the stories with a smile.

It would seem that one of the qualifications for singing opera, at least in Ecuador – a country of great machismo – is that you not be the jealous type. 

Arellano and Rosero sing opera at the only venue in town, and for that matter, the only one in Ecuador: La Belle Epoque Restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Grande. 

The reactions to Arellano and Rosero’s performances by the diners at La Belle Epoque are at times inexplicable even to them.  But Arellano offers a possibility: “People want to possess art and since they cannot possess it, they [try to] possess the artist.”

In case there is any doubt, Arellano and Rosero belong to one another – two professional and personal lives so intertwined it is perhaps what makes the show work as well as it does.

Four nights a week they perform their show - an act that they brought from Buenos Aires following a professional sabbatical in Argentina, but have adapted it to their local venue.

“To some extent there is part of our creation in this,” admits Arellano.  “While I studied in Argentina I had the opportunity to work with recognized singers at the Colon Theater in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, called Positano Lirica.  They had a show that was very similar to ours.”

But, there was one big difference between that show and the one you find in Quito.  “There was a large number of singers [in Argentina].  There were eight of us,” he says.   Arellano and Rosero, by contrast, are merely two – a tenor and a soprano.

They perform in full-costumed, period dress.  From 18th century Italy to 19th century France, they have different costumes for different epochs, all researched, designed, and made locally, but completed according to historical detail.

“We look in the history of fashion books.  We have researched the fashion changes – the decoration, colors, materials…we make the costumes resemble the time periods in which the operas were written,” says Rosero.

Looking the part, though, is the least challenging aspect of their performance.  Singing is a demanding activity and one that requires Arellano and Rosero to take care, not only of their voices, but their overall health.

“Normally an opera singer [who sings] advanced opera, at a maximum, does a performance every other day.  But this is a little more complicated because we sing the following day, Wednesday through Saturday.  It is very demanding…you have to be in good shape, have an excellent technique, and also have the mental capacity to appear before a different audience every night,” explains Arellano.

For more than four years now they have stuck to this schedule rigorously (without vacation), attributing their consistency to an Italian technique that Arellano learned in Spain and reinforced in Argentina.  He and his wife also emphasize the good habits: “No drinking, no smoking, plenty of rest, take care of your teeth, rest well, and drink a lot of water.”  They say these habits help to maintain a good pH balance which is required for healthy vocal cords.

But one thing is to maintain healthy vocal cords, the other is to renew their interest in their own show in order to perform it week after week, year after year.  Part of their secret is the great reception they receive from a crowd who values their performance.

“In the hotel we have a tremendous welcome because it is a foreign public and they know how much a ticket to the theater costs – around $200, $300, as much as $2000 dollars depending on the seat and what country you are in.  So, to come here, have dinner and two high caliber singers is really something special, a privilege.  They feel comfortable.  They appreciate our work,” says Rosero.

Arellano adds, “Our repertoire is very big, but you have to understand that the hotel is visited by foreigners.  They come one time, maybe the only time in their life.  The areas that we try to offer are the most recognized worldwide,” says Arellano. 

That does not mean they do not experiment.  “When we see the same public we have the opportunity not to repeat and be able to show what we possess, including areas that have not been heard before.”

Rosero also take advantage of using different language skill sets to sing to different audiences from different countries – English, Italian, French, even Russian.

But she assures that it is not vital to understand the language of the lyrics because of their presentation method.  These are artists who know how to communicate with more than just words.   Though most in the audience understand and are familiar with the operas, some are not, so they take a moment to offer an explanation before each performance and then let their clients get absorbed in the performance.

“The people come with me,” says Rosero.  “They create intrigue; they understand what it is about.  When we sing a song it is not in a foreign language…with our movements and with our notes the people understand…the people enter the world of opera, understand, and enjoy.   We have created a public for the operas.”

To see Arellano and Rosero perform, make a reservation at La Belle Epoque Restaurant, Wednesday through Saturday, by calling 251-0777.  The show begins at 8pm.  If you would like to contract them for other events, call their company, Quito Lirica, 321-2375 or 084-286-291, or write to Arellano at [email protected].



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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.