Apartheid in the Lyric Theater of Cuba? / Miguel Iturría Savón

On September 12, 2011, the soprano Yoslainy Perez Derrick, a member of the National Lyric Theater Choir of Cuba (TLNC) sent a letter to the State Council, with copies to the Ministry of Culture and National Arts Council, complaining of irregularities hampering her artistic development within that institution, because for 15 years she has played only secondary roles without being evaluated as a solo artist, despite her record, high professional standards and broad curriculum.

In her extensive testimony she enumerates the requests to the director of the company, the pretexts used by him, the humiliations and the constraints that favor her exclusion. “They’ve been closing the fence on me every day, subtly forbidding the possibility to develop myself as an artist, I’m not scheduled even in roles that previously performed… I was evaluated as a first level singer with the choir in 2003, and since that date I have not been re-evaluated.”

To amend the opportunities denied to the 38-year-old black singer of it would be enough to hear some of her recordings and concerts or read her bulging curriculum, but things are not so easy with the Master Adolfo Casas Chirino, director of TLNC, who upon receiving the complaint met with the Secretary of Nucleus of the Communist Party and the Arts Council before responding to Martha Orihuela, Director of Inspection of the Ministry of Culture, who sent arguments against the applicant, dated 31 October and 2 November.

The first alleges appreciation of “the interest of the compañera in excelling since she graduated at the senior level at ISA, and her intention to progress, aspiring to roles in the various titles of the works presented in the Grand Theater of Havana.” She cites the roles performed by Yoslainy Perez in La Traviata, Cecilia Valdés, Maria La O and The Magic Flute, but warns that “she has already reached the maximum level to which she can aspire as a choir singer” and that to ascend to actress singer “would require a prior audition and a vacancy that matches her type of voice,” lyric soprano. After which she cites other details and describes her as “disrespectful to the approach… we have a retrograde thinking, demagogue, favoritism, insubordinate and even patronizing …”

The second letter, signed by the Director and members of the Artistic Council members, is more of the same.

Yoslainy Pérez Derrick (Havana, 1973), graduated in Music Education from the Adolfo Guzman School (1989), has a Bachelor degree, studied English and German, art direction and production, vocal technique with Ricardo Linares Fleites, director of the Lyric Theatre Chorus, and with Martha Clarke, soloist of the company and professor at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), where she majored in Voice.

With the Lyric, she joined the cast of Porgy & Bess, under the general direction of Maestro Manuel Duchesne Cuzán and musician Enrique Pérez Mesa, which won success in Austria and Spain in the summer of 2000. She took on the characters Estrella in the operetta Amalia Batista, of Flora in La Traviata, of the Second Lady in The Magic Flute, and was a cast member in the operetta Cecilia Valdés.

She has been a soloist in in concert-tributes to G. Gershwin, Gonzalo Roig, Mariana Gonitch, Lyrics of the Future, la Sala San Felipe Neri, the Plaza de Armas with the National Concert Band, the Amadeo Roldan Auditorium, and the Catalan Society; as well as singing in Galas of closure and Master Classes of foreign directors such as the Austrian Hartmut Krones, George Backer, from Luxembourg, the Korean Jae-Joon Lee, and the Spanish soprano Elisa Belmonte. In 2009 she won 2nd place and the award for best performer of opera Gonitch Marian Competition.

Such a record belies the disqualification about the lack of skills and other pretexts used by the Director and the Arts Council to deny the place of the TLNC singer actress where she remains in the choir since 1996. Is the color of her skin the cause of marginalization at the elite institution?

Adolfo Casas argues that his company has no racial prejudice and that the staff includes significant actors of African descent, among them one of the leading sopranos. Yoslainy Pérez Derrick expressed otherwise and considers it “segregated” because she prefers to realize her aspirations without flattery or will not remain silent about nepotism and the abuse of power practiced by Casas.

Artists requesting anonymity say that all who claimed their rights or alleged irregularities in the “fiefdom de Zulueta 253″ (seat of TLNC), were shown the exit door with little in hand.

This “bureaucratic apartheid” enjoys the complicity of the State Council and the Ministry of Culture, agencies that sent Pérez Derrick’s letter back to the slaughterhouse, without subjecting it to an impartial analysis with advice or views of experts not involved in the problem.

In the aftermath, the aspirations of the black soprano continue to be held back by the unilateral opinion of the Maestro Adolfo Casas and the Arts Council who bend their necks before its draconian codes. Undoubtedly, this mechanism will continue wasting the artistry of talented professionals.

The TLNC is losing ground to companies that exhibit greater force in their development and scene settings. The easy way is to recycle the same pieces, sets, actors, stage movements and concessions, but it only manages to bore fans of the genre and divert viewers to other companies that seek excellence.

For its human material, the Lyric Theater could multiply its proposals and present them in various locations. Its professionals need practice and freshness before the viewpoints of different managers and specialists, which provide opportunities for singers like Pérez Derrick.

For such purposes a competent director is needed, and not an overseer who cracks the whip on the slaves he develops. Despotic vices and styles turn Cuban culture into a victim of these mistakes.

December 13 2011