October 2, 2009 / 1:02 PM / 8 years ago

Latin American tunes sway London's Royal Opera

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's Royal Opera House will sway to the sounds of South America with a new work based on a short story by Chilean novelist Isabel Allende.

"Letters of a Love Betrayed," composed by Jamaican-born, British-based musician Eleanor Alberga, opens on Friday at the Linbury Studio Theater at the famous opera house, and after a short run travels around England, Scotland and Wales.

The piece, set against the scorched South American landscape, is Alberga's first opera and took her a year and a half to write, often cramming two days' work into one.

"I was surprised by the amount of time it would take, but that's because you have to think through what each character is thinking and doing and what their intention is and where the drama is going," Alberga said in an interview.

Librettist Donald Sturrock first suggested that she set Allende's short tale, from the collection "The Stories of Eva Luna," to music.

The tale recounts how the solitary Analia Torres is wooed by a man through a series of love letters, only to find that her marriage to their supposed author is brutal and loveless.

But fate is not finished with her, and when she discovers the truth about the letters she has a chance of redemption.

"I was very attracted to it because of the central character Analia -- her vivid imagination, deep spirituality, strength of character and what actually happens to her and the fact that fate plays a big part in the story," said Alberga.

MUSICAL ROOTS

Sturrock secured rights from the agent of Allende, related to the man Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet overthrew in a 1973 coup and who went on to become a best-selling novelist whose acclaimed works include "The House of the Spirits."

Alberga said she saw similarities between her Jamaican roots and those of Allende in South America.

"There are definitely cross references," the composer said. "Jamaica has been through a long history of different nations colonizing it and the Spanish were there at one stage, which of course is the same roots as South America.

"There is a lot in common and especially in the music, the sort of folk music."

Alberga said she saw nothing unusual about a Jamaican composer bringing a new work to the Royal Opera House.

"I absolutely hate that idea of black or woman or gender or race coming into this," she said.

"If you look at it in a broad spectrum, I suppose the whole African continent doesn't include Western opera as part of its culture, it's a Western thing. (But) It's nothing to do with black or pink or brown.

"I've grown up in Jamaica. In a sense there are slight racial problems, but there is a mix of races. A lot of Jamaicans have mixed blood. We tend not to see race as an issue or something to be highlighted, so it goes against my grain."

Editing by Paul Casciato

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