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Curtain-up on Cecilia's 'Ecce Homo' opera in Arizona
AN OPERA based upon the bizarre tale of an elderly lady's botched restoration of a 19th-century fresco has been aired in Arizona ahead of its world première.
Cecilia Giménez was 81 when, in 2012, she decided to restore the well-worn painting of the Ecce Homo in her local church in the sleepy Zaragoza province town of Borja.
An accomplished amateur artist who said the priest always gave her free rein to repair damaged artworks in the church, Cecilia's worst nightmare came true when the unfinished restoration of the Christ portrait hit the headlines, upsetting the painter's surviving relatives and leading to their threatening to sue her for six-figure sums for wilful damage.
But while Cecilia took to her bed with a panic attack, the world's press converged on Borja and campaigns and petitions were launched to leave the 'new' Ecce Homo as it was.
Visitors began to turn up from all over the world, Ryanair launched flights to Zaragoza for €1, and bars in the tiny market town said they had never enjoyed such a roaring trade.
Eventually, entry tickets to the church in Borja were charged and souvenirs created – including T-shirts, pens, mugs, keyrings and fridge magnets – featuring the 'new' version of the painting.
From being completely unheard of and surviving on agriculture and family-run local retail trade, Borja became a global tourism magnet and has been thriving for the last six years.
Then, North American theatrical director Andrew Flack approached Cecilia for permission to write an opera based upon the story.
A libretta in English and Spanish was drafted, and the Evelyn Sith Music Theatre at Arizona State University (ASU), in the city of Tempe, is about to perform it for the first time.
Titled Behold the Man, which is more or less a translation of Ecce Homo, the Latin for 'every man', the show includes music composed by Paul Fowler and the mise en scène has been created by artistic director Brian DeMaris.
Andrew Flack believes the two-act opera to be his best work ever – or the one he is most proud of – and calls it 'the project of his life'.
“This opera is going to triumph, because it's a subject of global interest with a local impact and an example of what happens when a story and music come together,” Flack explains.
“All my moral, spiritual, romantic and political beliefs are contained in it.
“As well as being a comedy, it also includes forgiveness and faith – the community forgave Cecilia and Cecilia forgave the community, which is the most important; we saw how suffering underwent a massive tranformation.
“The reality is that nobody cared about the original fresco. The painting by Elías García Martínez was left to rot, and Cecilia's work on it had far more of an impact than the original ever did.”
Behold the Man has taken five years to put together and includes a selection of local scenes from Borja, taken in 2016.
The only character based upon a real person is that of Cecilia, but the end production is very Aragonese – it features the region's traditional folk dance, the jota, and other music and dance styles from all over Spain including the zarzuela, the flamenco – with a blend of tango thrown in – and a fandango.
Behold the Man's world première will be in Zaragoza in 2019.
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