The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Sep 20, 2013

Opera, zarzuela, puppets — and a string quartet

Posted by Gregory Stepanich

Jacqueline Quirk as Suor Angelica in the Puccini opera of that name at Miami Lyric Opera.

Things are starting to move a little as summer transitions Saturday into fall, with shows from two more regular festivals taking place this weekend and early next week. And Festival Miami is less than two weeks away.

Here are some short items about things to see in the classical realm: Miami Lyric Opera: Raffaele Cardone’s plucky company presents a double bill tomorrow and Sunday of two classic one-act late Romantic Italian operas: Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, a violent tale of jealousy in a small Sicilian town, and Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica, a sad story of a nun who has had to give up everything in order to placate her wealthy family. Mascagni and Puccini were roommates at the Milan Conservatory in the 1880s, and their experiences together would furnish some of the ancillary business in Puccini’s La Boheme. Cavalleria is usually paired with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, a twinning so frequent opera fans know it as Cav and Pag.

But Suor Angelica has gained hugely in popularity over the years since its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 as the middle piece of a three-opera night called Il Trittico. Sopranos love the role, and it has all of Puccini’s great melodic gift on abundant display. Jacqueline Quirk sings Angelica, and her aunt, the princess, is sung by Lissette Jimenez. Raquel Rubi is Suora Zelatrice, and Emilia Acon sings Badessa; the rest of this all-female opera consists of a chorus of novices and nuns.

Tenor Lievens Castillo is Turridu in Cavalleria, and his Santuzza is Nathalie Avila. Acon sings Mamma Lucia, Jimenez sings Lola, and baritone Armando Naranjo is Alfio. The conductor is Jeff Eckstein, and stage direction is by Cardone. Performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center. Tickets range from $25 to $45; visit or call 305-374-2444.

Raquel Rubi. Raquel Rubi.

Miami World Music Festival: Pianist Adolfo Vidal’s second iteration of his musical series continues tonight at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center on the south campus of Florida International University with a concert of music from two zarzuelas.

The zarzuela is the late 19th-century version of the Viennese operetta, and many is the Spanish and New Spanish composer who’s essayed something in this form since. The festival features five singers and the Miami Chamber Players in music from Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda, and Cuban composer Rodrigo Prats’ Amalia Batista. Singers include Raquel Rubi (who does Miami Lyric Opera the next two days), Hilda del Castillo, Jose Antonio Navarro, Nelson Martinez and Jesus Brañas.

Anyone who’s been to a concert of zarzuela music in Miami, or Florida Grand Opera’s production of Luisa Fernanda, can attest to the warmth and affection with which this music is received by Hispanic audiences, who frequently sing along with the performers. It makes for a remarkably homey night at the theater if this is not your native tradition, and a chance to hear a repertory that also should be heard more widely in our concert halls and theaters.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. performance are $25-$35; visit or call 786-581-7746.

A jim Hammond puppet for Fantasma. A puppet for "Fantasma."

South Beach Chamber Ensemble: Cellist Michael Andrews’ chamber group joins forces with puppeteer Jim Hammond, CEO of Puppet Network, and the Academy of Performing and Visual Arts at Miami Beach Senior High School for a multimedia presentation early Sunday evening at 1100 Block Outdoor Stage on Lincoln Road.

The show, called Fantasma, has been funded through Kickstarter and revolves around a mysterious creature “embarking on a scary journey led by a canine companion,” according to the ensemble. “She interacts with the musicians, the audience and you. This endearing phantom creature is on a quest to challenge her fears and test her might against huge beings…”

That leaves a lot open to the imagination, which is surely the point. The South Beach Chamber Ensemble, in addition to Andrews, features violinists Tony Seepersad and Luis Fernandez, and violist Rafael Ramirez. Music includes Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, the funeral march from Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata and film favorites such as Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho and John Williams’ Jaws.

The 6 p.m. show is free; the rain location is the Miami Beach Community Church nearby. For more information, visit

The Ehnes Quartet. The Ehnes Quartet.

Friends of Chamber Music of Miami: A reminder here that the Ehnes Quartet will be in town Monday night on Julian Kreeger’s long-running series at Coral Gables Congregational Church. This is literally an all-star ensemble, and while quartets are usually created by young players just starting out, often at college, this is a group created by a man, Canadian violinist James Ehnes, who already had a major international career.

He’s joined by violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Robert deMaine, now principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet (String Quartet No. 14, D. 810), Mendelssohn’s First Quartet (in E-flat, Op. 12) and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 (in F-sharp minor, Op. 108) are on the program, which is a meaty and exciting way to get this series, now in its 58th year, off to a great start.

Tickets are $35, $10 for students. Visit or call 305-372-2975.

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