International Brazilian Opera Company
Letter from the artistic director: João MacDowell
When Italians in Florence created what we today call “opera,” they were trying to recreate Greek drama, itself a recreation of older initiation rituals. For a long time: theater, dance, medicine, and magic, have been practiced in communal ceremonies embedded in music. The reenactment of a myth could bring an epiphany capable of transforming lives.
We are all Americans: South Americans, North Americans, and Central Americans. In the United States, Latin Americans are 20% of the population. However, this segment remains underrepresented in opera programming. Until recently, mainstream institutions have been oblivious to our shared culture and the large body of Latin American opera. This blindness has deprived audiences of a broader conversation about human existence and social change.
Latin American art blossoms in flights of imagination under dire circumstances, bringing unexpected hope to the oppressed. There is a creative tradition of magical realism that brings in bright colors and sunlight to deflect the darkness of inequality.
Brazil has a history of cross-cultural dialogue between African and Native expression against European classical practices. Since the XVIII Century, Brazil was an integral part of the international touring opera circuit. European productions would ignite philosophical questions about the meaning and relevance of art itself. In contrast, the streets staged operatic spectacles of Carnaval, and community-based musical dramas, such as “Bumba Meu Boi” took place in small-town squares.
Brazilian-born Antonio Carlos Gomes (1836 -1896) was the first opera composer from the Americas to establish a solid career in Europe. A mixed-race man with notable African features, he was the first New World composer whose work toured through notable European opera houses. Gomes was the only non-European to be successful in the golden age of Italian opera.
In 1922, modern artists occupied the São Paulo opera house for one week. They called for the cannibalization of the colonizer’s culture. Art should embrace the contribution of all ethnicities.
Contemporary Brazilian opera is blossoming with new creators. The vitality of the scene and the enthusiasm of young audiences will surprise foreign visitors. Living composers such as Jocy de Oliveira, Jorge Antunes, João Guilherme Ripper, Ligiana Costa, Leonardo Martinelli, Clarice Assad, João Carlos Rocha, Felipe Senna, and many others are building a remarkable corpus of works teaming with aesthetic variety, cultural relevance, innovation, beauty, emotion, and excitement.
Opera embraces all art forms. It is about community and collaboration, music and drama. It is about being together, experiencing a contemporary ritual, and perhaps a possibility of personal and social transformation.
OPERA America’s annual Opera Conference is the largest assembly of opera administrators, artists, trustees, and associates in the world.