Guerilla Opera’s ‘ELLIS’ tells stories of immigrants

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The multicultural cast of five will perform original compositions by Vanoni and a libretto by Ewa Chrusciel at the Old South Meeting House – but they won’t be alone on stage. Vanoni incorporated recorded interviews with immigrants from Ellis Island into the score, and director Laine Rettmer compiled archival footage from the Library of Congress into videos to be projected on the walls of the hall.

To add to the transport experience, members of the public will also be “checked in”, much like the treatment at Ellis Island – “a sort of custom, so to speak,” said Guerilla’s artistic director Aliana. de la Guardia, who also has two roles. at the Opera.

Aliana de la Guardia, artistic director of Guerilla Opera, is pictured performing in an “ELLIS” workshop at Gloucester Stage in April.Jeffrey means

The audience will then be divided into three groups to walk through the space during the performance, viewing the opera from different points of view under the direction of ‘guides’ integrated into the show. A group will welcome all members of the public with mobility problems.

The effect, said de la Guardia, is to merge the past and the present, “to tie this historic lineage to today’s immigrants, and to see how we are a continuation of that history.”

“We are layering the idea of ​​travel,” said de la Guardia, who plays Raysel Luba and Maria’s mother in “ELLIS”. “We all migrate through space together as a group of people trying to find their way to the center of the story.”

“ELLIS” is the brainchild of Vanoni, a composition professor at Berklee College of Music who has already mounted three other performances using similar sources gleaned from Ellis Island. Oral history project of the National Museum of Immigration. He was drawn to the history of the island by his grandmother, who was born in America but passed through Ellis Island after traveling to Italy, where Vanoni was born.

De la Guardia character Raysel Luba – a name coined for a character inspired by a real person – arrived on Ellis Island pregnant after surviving a Nazi concentration camp. Upon arrival, Luba found her father unable to take care of himself and decided to give her newborn baby up for adoption. Vanoni incorporated a recording of Luba’s daughter’s voice into her composition, creating a “battle” between stage and sound.

“There are immigrant voices spread across all stages,” Vanoni said. “These are really the voices that accompany us.

The video screenings, curated by Rettmer and host Nuozhou Wang, are also designed to engage with the action on stage, de la Guardia said.

“We are telling the stories of real people who have faced real responsibility for the choices they made,” de la Guardia said. “It’s important, I think, to put faces on this. “

Rettmer and Wang edited and pasted the videos to be “metaphors for the character experience,” Rettmer said. During a scene where Luba abandons her daughter, there is an Ellis Island clip of two birds flying together before one disappears.

“I absolutely wanted to mix both this style of fiction and the documentary,” Rettmer said.

It is estimated that about 40 percent of Americans can trace their family history through Ellis Island. De la Guardia, whose great-grandmother traveled the island before ending up in Cuba, said the opera could resonate with people who “feel detached from our ancestors.”

“The issue of migration is an issue that affects us all in very personal ways and in very different ways,” she said. “It is important for us to feel that we are part of the legacy of immigration to this country.

The opera, says Vanoni, leaves the fates of the characters open. “The question that really persists is, ‘What defines who I am, what is my identity?’ “, did he declare.

For de la Guardia, too, the production is less about resolution and more about honoring the stories of the immigrants who have traveled here.

“These are the trials they went through, the struggles they encountered along the way, and the end result is the same – come here and look for something new, start a new life,” he said. she declared. “Maybe a better one.”


Dana Gerber can be reached at [email protected]


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