By Paula Escalada Medrano
Washington, Sep 23 (EFE).- An expedition led initially by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and later Spanish navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano successfully circumnavigated the globe for the first time 500 years ago, but an opera project based on that historic voyage is proving more difficult to bring to fruition.
Although some fragments of the work were performed this week at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, the full opera still has not premiered and is still lacking a producer.
“Even though our project was one of the first and was one of the big crown jewels of the commemorative activities for the fifth centenary, everything has gotten a bit bogged down and it hasn’t taken off. We’re looking for funding to get it produced,” Spanish tenor Israel Lozano told Efe.
Titled “Opera Magallanes-Elcano. No hay rosa sin espinas” (Magellan-Elcano Opera: There’s No Rose without Thorns), that Spanish-language project has yet to get off the ground even though all the elements are in place, including costume and stage design and lighting, Lozano, who plays Elcano, and Luciano Miotto, a baritone in the role of Magellan, told Efe.
“We’re waiting to see who can sponsor us so we can do it. We’re orphans even though we’ve been granted the title of Special Interest Project by the (Spanish government-created) National Commission for the Commemoration of the 5th Centenary of the First Round-the-World Voyage, Miotto told Efe during a rehearsal in Washington DC.
Some fragments of the opera – “Cancion de Beatriz,” “Infeliz de mi” and “Aria de Elcano” – were performed Thursday night at the Kennedy Center as part of the Pan American Symphony Orchestra’s “Antologia de la Zarzuela” concert.
The Magellan opera project, whose origins date back to 2012, features a libretto that Seville-based historian Jose Manuel Nuñez de la Fuente penned based on the diaries of Italian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta and music by Italians Marco Raghezza and Giovanni Scapecchi.
The opera singers wore tuxedoes on Thursday night instead of the costumes designed for a hypothetical future premiere.
“This concert should’ve been in Seville. What a shame we haven’t had the chance,” Lozano said.
These projects “are large-scale and not only involve soloists, but a chorus, an orchestra, stage design … A large budget is needed and normally they’re co-productions among (multiple) theaters,” he explained.
Negotiations were held several years ago with a view to the two-and-a-half-hour work premiering at Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza, but when the pandemic struck the project was left up in the air.
The project has been held up even though tax incentives provided by the Spanish government allow sponsors of projects commemorating Magellan’s expedition to deduct between 45 percent and 90 percent of their investment outlays.
Lozano has been involved in the project from the beginning, not only giving voice to Elcano but also serving as artistic director.
“It’s important to support classical music and new opera compositions,” said Lozano, a student of Spanish tenors Alfredo Kraus and Placido Domingo who has spent more than two decades in the United States and has performed on stage in 25 countries.
Five ships and a crew of nearly 300 men set off on Sept. 20, 1519, with the goal of finding a western route to the Moluccas (or Spice Islands, now an Indonesian archipelago), sailing from Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain, crossing the Atlantic, sailing down the eastern coast of South America and passing through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean.
That expedition then crossed the Pacific Ocean and reached the Philippines, where Magellan died in battle, and then the Spice Islands.
At that point in the expedition, the initial crew of around 277 had been reduced by more than half.
On the return trip, a single ship – the Victoria – carrying around 40 men and led by Elcano crossed the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape of Good Hope before stopping in Portuguese Cape Verde for provisions.
It eventually returned to Sanlucar de Barrameda on Sept. 6, 1522, with just 18 survivors, the other 22 apparently having died of starvation. EFE