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Luis Ernest Doñas on stage at the Ljubljana Opera House, Slovenia. Photo by: Darja Štravs Tisu

Arts & Culture

Cuban Stage Director Luis Ernesto Doñas Directs a New Production of Werther

Cuban stage director Luis Ernesto Doñas returns to the international stage for the premiere of the operatic masterpiece Werther, in Slovenia. Rehearsals are in full swing at the Ljubljana Opera House, opening on January 18.

After a 45-year absence, Jules Messenet’s Werther reemerges on the Ljubljana stage. First performed in the city during the 1908-1909 season, the opera production was last seen in 1978-1979.

This time, Cuban film and stage director Doñas takes charge.

Werther is a three-act opera by Massenet with a libretto by Edoard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann. Stars of Slovenian opera world Aljaž Farasin, Martin Sušnik, Nuška Drašček, Elena Dobravec, Margareta Matišic, Štefica Grasselli, and Nina Dominko, among others. The opera is under the musical direction of the Belgian conductor Ayrton Desimpelaere.

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Doñas has teamed up the same creative people he worked with for Giovanni Sollima’s Acquaprofunda and Rossini’s Otello in Japan. The team is an international group including set designer Chiara La Ferlita, costume designer Elisa Cobello, and lighting designer Camilla Piccioni.

He explained they met while training at the Fabbrica Young Artist Program of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Since those days, they have continued working together on theatrical productions.

When not staging productions abroad, Doñas, a graduate from the San Antonio de los Baños Film School, is a film director. His short films and documentaries have won several awards at national and international festivals.

Concurrently, he is also working on his first feature film, Esencia Habana, a winner of ICAIC’s Film Development Fund prize in Cuba and of the International Ibermedia Fund.

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What have you been doing since the staging of Othello in Japan?

Honestly, this has been quite a fruitful year in professional terms. After Rossini’s Otello at the Belcanto Opera Festival in Japan, I joined the Berlin Opera Academy to work with young talents on a version of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.

My opera prima project, Esencia Habana, got the support of Ibermedia, which turned out to be the necessary impulse to think about shooting in Cuba this year. It has given me the opportunity to work with the incredible scriptwriter Filippo Ascione in the last rewrite of the script.

Also, every November, I help my friend and excellent musician Marcos Madrigal, as vice artistic director, coordinating the Habana Clásica Festival. This 5th edition, reached a greater impact and dimension, included exponents of non-academic classical music from the Middle East. It had a more ambitious agenda of social actions that brought the invited musicians to disadvantaged population groups that cannot access the halls in the historic center of the city. Concerts in hospitals for children and senior citizens in the suburbs and master classes in the various musical institutions of Havana make the festival understood as present and future as well.

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What will set this production of Werther apart from earlier productions?

Our Werther, besides being a poet as Massenet suggests, is also a painter as in Goethe’s original. This allows a plastic approach to the text as a suspended universe where classical elements coexist with contemporary objects and where the dichotomy of nature-society enters into confrontation, driving the protagonist character to total estrangement.

Another difference is the treatment of death that we proposed as the culminating point of his alienation from concrete reality in favor of nature. Werther finds answers what is essential in nature, and he offers himself to it. Death opens up to various interpretations, stimulating the audience to participate more actively as spectators.

In addition, all the characters, however small they may be, hide great secrets, revealing the double standards that society creates through a framework of pre-established rules and impersonal vertical structures that dehumanize.

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What are your future plans after this production?

At the moment I want to concentrate entirely on making my film Esencia Habana, which is intended to be a further step in the historic bridge of artistic friendship between Cuban and Italian culture.

With this latest production of Werther, Doñas adds another achievement to his career and joins the large number of Cuban artists with a national and international reach.

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