The success of “Eva Luna,” a rare original Puerto Rican opera, shined a cultural light in the island’s stormy darkness. Movie and TV director Betty Kaplan wrote her first opera to honor her best friend
Lycrist Betty Kaplan listens as composer Alberto Guidobaldi plays the score of their original opera,"Eva Luna"
For Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Betty Kaplan, it was very special to be part of a significant cultural triumph in her adopted home Puerto Rico, a performance of her first opera.
It was a cultural boost for an island that desperately needed some good news. In recent years P.R. has been ravaged by hurricanes, insulted and short-changed by Trump and seen its infrastructure and economy flattened.
“A rare home-grown opera was discovered by an audience expecting a lot less,” wrote the San Juan Star, “and this sudden success of a Puerto Rican opera was a light in the stormy darkness. San Juan is not known for original operas, so this was a surprise.”
It was performed at the end of September by music students and teachers, who gave an inspiring performance. Despite weeks of preparation it almost didn’t happen. That week the Governor declared an emergency and set two days when schools would be closed, as Tropical Storm Karen descended on the island. This came a month after Hurricane Darian hit - bringing a reminder of Hurricane Maria the year before – and it happened only days after a 6.3 earthquake.”
Despite the weather and threat of natural disaster, the audience loved it.
The San Juan Daily Star headlined its review: “Eva Luna Stuns Audience…”: “Those attending the presentation felt they had been present at a historic occasion
from the time the orchestra played a tuneful overture evoking the raw violence
expressed in the original novel. The quality of the voices, even their
type or appropriateness for the character was a plus when it occurred, but is not
always to be expected in a student production, and should probably not be the
purview of a critic.”
“ What was really on trial or at stake here, added the San Juan Star reviewer, “was the island’s latest contribution to the 21st-century operatic repertoire, and it came through valiantly.”
The opera’s music is by Alberto Guidobaldi, an Italian, who has lived in Puerto Rico since 1993. He graduated “Summa cum Laude” at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico (CMPR) completing a Degree in Music, and now teaches there.
Guidobaldi’s classical compositions include choral and chamber music works, an opera buffa that premiered in 2006, and a symphonic poem that premiered in 2005 by the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. His compositions have been directed by renown conductors such as Joseph Flummerfelt, Sergei Pavlov, Clyde Mitchell and Roselin Pabon.
This was a project of many firsts for Kaplan, known for her work in movies, TV and theater.
“I have never written an opera before,” said Kaplan,” who adapted Isabel Allende's book "Eva Luna" and wrote the lyrics. Allende approved the project.
“I think I am the first screenwriter to write an Opera,” said Kaplan. ”Film directors have directed opera but have not written one. I was inspired to do so, because the book is based on one of my best friends from Venezuela, an Indian who wrote poetry, painted and was a Shaman. She passed away many years ago... and I wanted to honor her”.
Kaplan was born in Venezuela, raised in America but has lived for several years in her adopted home, San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. She moved there after years in Los Angeles along with her British-born husband, Peter Rawley, who was a top Hollywood agent for years, and now is a movie and TV producer.
After that electrifying evening, Eva Luna has been chosen for a future production The San Juan Opera Company., TEATRO DE LA OPERA.
“They have requested the opera for next year,” explains Kapan. “Once we have premiered next year, we hope the production will go into repertoire internationally. We have many Puerto Rican stars singing with different Opera Companies around the world and feel that they will want to recommend the opera to their companies.”
She feels "Eva Luna" will have international appeal in the opera world.
“Diversity was at work here,” says Kaplan, “with the compositional and literary influences of South America, Puerto Rico and by extension the United States, Europe, via Italy, and of course the indigenous, Andean influences present everywhere, from the birds to the rattles, to the innocence of a wild illiterate orphan, expressed in her intense need, her unbridled sexuality, and her keen instinct for getting herself in an out of scrapes. The orchestral conclusion, again with the defining presence of the harp, was melodious, exotic and uplifting. Despite its lurid episodes and dark underpinnings, it was an opera with a happy ending in every way. sense of the word.”
Kaplan is an accomplished photographer and has been ahead of her time always pushing for new ways to tell a story. She studied film production at New York University and the American Film Institute, studied ballet with Nina Novak of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and acting at the New York Center for Stanislavsky Theatre Art. She performed in the theatre as a child and toured internationally as a dancer.
Betty Kaplan on a movie set
Kaplan is currently preparing her latest film. “I will be directing “Simone,” a movie based on an award-winning novel from Puerto Rican writer, Eduardo Lalo which will star Esai Morales.” It is recently sneaked to international buyers for the first time at the American Film Market in Santa Monica.
Kaplan has directed the Universal Pictures release, “Dona Barbara,” which played worldwide and then was the premiere presentation of the Movie Series on Telemundo and Univision, garnering record ratings.
She directed the tele-film, "Almost A Woman," based on Esmeralda Santiago's book, for ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre. It won the prestigious Peabody Award and the Imagen Award.
In Hollywood, Kaplan has been active in the Director’s Guild of America. She was chair for several years of the DGA’s Latino Committee producing major events for the Guild.