By Margot Thomas
THE 400TH ANNIVERSARY of Shakespeare’s death will be marked in Panama with an operatic production of Verdi’s Macbeth in a unique location that was in use while the bard was living and Drake was busy harassing the folks who built Panama.
Opera Panama Founder and guiding light Irena Sylya has, like many other cultural organizers been left scrambling for venues while the government drags its heels on bringing the city’s historic Teatro Nacional back into service. There is apparently lots of money for pouring concrete in parks, but none for iconic cultural centers for the performing arts like opera and ballet.
All of which by happenstance has led to a unique setting for Verdi’s opera. The composer had described the tragedy as one of the greatest creations of the human spirit” and Panama will get a new twist to “when shall we three meet again?” with the triple magic of music, voice and virtual “scenery”
The scenery magic will be introduced by Greg Mitchell an assistant professor in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Theater and Dance.
Mitchell says the architecture, will “change and vanish before your eyes.” It’s not hocus-pocus, though it’s a technological wizardry that Mitchell, has practiced around the world.
The magic Mitchell wields is projection mapping, which uses an array of high-powered projectors, sophisticated software and media editing to place images in specific places on architecture.
“You can highlight and do all sorts of strange things with the architecture,” he explained. “You can also warp it and make it appear to completely crumble or perhaps have plants growing out of it.”
Mitchell will deploy the symphony of technology March 21 and 22 at the Convento de las Monjas Concepciones in Panama Viejo, the original settlement of Panama City abandoned in the 1670s after pirates destroyed the town.
“The ruins are an incredible backdrop to do a work like Macbeth, ” he said.
I have a feeling at some point the entire back wall is going to appear to go transparent and you’ll see the other ruins of Panama Viejo and I think there’s going to be a slowly rotating heart that will be an image that will come back and forth floating in the middle of Panama Viejo. At some point the walls will come back and all grout lines will be very, very strong and graphic and start to bleed at one point.”
Mitchell has his work cut out for him. Panama Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site undergoing active archaeology work. That makes the logistics of setting up tricky. Crews are building a structure to house the large projectors, which will have to be put in place with a crane. Everything else associated with a theater — stage, seating, lighting, power and more — will need to be built in place. And he’ll have to hustle.
“We have a very limited window,” Mitchell told a University magazine “I would prefer to have two weeks to set up the site and really do this; we’re going to have two days.
Because the site is outdoors, Mitchell will have to carefully choreograph those two days of set up. The Panama Symphony Orchestra, due to a tight schedule, will only have two rehearsals at the site — both while everything is being installed. Even that, he said, isn’t the hardest part. “The most challenging part has been trying to work in Panama,” Mitchell said, noting the country’s relaxed attitude toward deadlines and the urgent needs of a set designer more than 4,000 miles away.
But Mitchell, who has been doing traditional set design for 20 years, is one of the few people who can pull it off. He’s done a number of productions in challenging, non-theatrical locations. His most recent was in Nepal, in one of the world’s oldest Hindu temples, also a World Heritage Site.
That opera, “Arjuna’s Dilemma,” based on a story from the Bhagavad Gita, led directly to “Macbeth.” One of the people he worked with there knew about Panama Opera Foundation’s plans to stage Verdi’s classic during the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
Weird crazy ruin
“They said, ‘You know, Verdi’s “Macbeth” is the perfect thing to do in this weird, crazy ruin.’ ” Mitchell said. “So they called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ Of course I jumped on it. It was an amazing opportunity to work on a really fascinating opera.”
Nor did it hurt that this is likely a one-of-a-kind opportunity to work in the ruins of Panama Viejo. “That site is just out of this world,” Mitchell said. “You walk around there and it’s just amazing something like that exists in the Americas.”
A star studded international cast will present the opera with Branko Ladic of the Slovakian Opera conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.
Roy Stevens sings Macbeth. He has performed leading roles in 18 countries, on 5 continents including Teatro alla Scala, Dallas Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Oper Frankfurt, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos and more.
Annalisa Winberg sings Lady Macbeth She has sung with opera companies and symphony orchestras around the world, including San Francisco Symphony, Opera Orchestra of New York, Philadelphia Opera Company, Dallas Opera, Sarasota Opera, German National Opera of Weimar, The Austria Tyrol Festival, and Wienerkammer Opera
Panama international stars Juan Pomares and Jakub Pustina share the role of Macduff. Pomares, made his concert debut in
Vienna in November of last year/ Jakub Pustina of the Czech Republic has been a permanent guest in the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava and The State Opera Prague, since 2011.
Panamanian Moises Guevara sings Banquo performed leading roles in 18 countries, on 5 continents sings has portrayed leading roles including
Scarpia, Amonasro, Papageno, Schaunard
Jose Jorge Alvarez who sings Malcom made his opera debut in 2015 in Pagliacci and has performed in Madama Butterfly and many concerts in Panama
Evgenia Pirshan Russian member of Opera Panama who sings the Dama and has performed extensively in Moscow, made her Panama debut in Madama Butterfly last year.
Renowned Argentinian Daniel Helfgot is Stage Director.
ElSalvadoran member of Opera Panama, Fernando Brito, sings the doctor and Panamanian Veronica Guevara, sings the apparitions
The performance starts at 8pm.
Tickets are from $10 for students and $50 for general seating and $100, $175 and $250 for VIP