Divaria Productions’ latest presentation will delve into the lives Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I through an original biopic opera that will make its virtual world premiere via Bay Street on Thursday, November 12.
Rival Queens stars mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna as Queen Elizabeth I, Ashley Galvani Bell as Mary Queen of Scots, Michal Gizinski as Narrator, and tenor Andrew Owens as Leicester.
We caught up with the film’s director, Anton Armedariz Diaz, about the unique production, filming internationally, and much more.
Rival Queens is a global production. It was created and prepared on an intercontinental basis, with you – along with the production’s pianist and some of the actors based in Spain; cast members and crew in New York; a narrator from San Francisco; and a cast member in Chicago. What was it like to film with crew and cast located across the world?
AAD: Overall, the entire production has been an exciting challenge. I have never done such a complicated job before, not because of the type of show, but because of the way it is done. We had to set rehearsal times that were convenient for everyone, have in mind that between Spain and New York there are six hours of difference, with Chicago seven hours and with San Francisco eight hours. Fortunately, current technology has allowed us to carry out effective rehearsals, and specially, thanks to the interest and effort of all the cast. In reality, Rival Queens has been a working laboratory, a study platform for a new way of presenting our productions. But I must say, if I have to choose between a live show or this way of working, without a doubt, I choose the live one. The warmth of the public is priceless.
The original biopic opera tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. What about the story resonated with you?
AAD: The story of Queen Mary of Scotland is well known, her tragic life and death, and her struggle to keep her religious convictions alive. I believe that throughout history, there has been an image of a victim of this woman, leaving Elizabeth I of England as the guilty and ruthless. During the documentation process that we did during pre-production, I read several biographies, and that’s where my opinion changed. Perhaps her religious struggle was nothing more than the excuse to maintain her private war for power against her cousin Elizabeth. I do not think that after 400 years we can judge who was guilty for what happened, among other things, none of us were there, but I do believe that neither Mary was so good, nor Elizabeth so bad, if not rather than both they were locked in and dominated by a situation that led them both to make wrong decisions. They were queens, and even today, ordinary citizens have no idea how such high circles of power work.
Could you speak to the production’s music, which will highlight Donizetti’s opera Maria Stuarda with English subtitles?
AAD: The original idea of the production, when it was to be performed at Bay Street, was to melt Schiller’s work Mary Stuart with Donizetti’s opera Maria Estuarda. By adapting the story to the screen, we kept the idea of using the musical. To do so, the musical team chose the parts of the opera that best adapted to the new story created specially for the movie. The process to perform and record the opera was complicated, since the singers had to rehearse via Zoom with the musical director, who is in Logroño [Spain]. We recorded in Spain the piano parts, and then sent them to Chicago and New York to be recorded by the singers, and finally finish the process and return it to Spain.
I want to highlight the intelligence that our young musical director and pianist, Sergio Martínez Zangróniz, showed in the choice of the pieces and in the adaptation and cuts that they have had to make, since numerous characters appear in the opera, but in the film they have been reduced to three, the two queens and Leicester. Regarding the performers, I highlight their voices and the brilliant interpretation that the three singers have been able to carry out of this difficult score, which only the greatest dare to sing.
We wanted to translate the arias with subtitles, so that the audience can follow the plot, since the chosen texts are in relation to the story we tell.
Rival Queens melds documentary film with the music of opera. What drew you to this unique form of art?
AAD: There are numerous operas based on real characters or events that occurred throughout history, but in general, the way of telling the story in operas is not realistic, but is written from a fantasy point of view. I believe that using the wonderful music of the great composers to recreate lives or real events is a way of bringing history, on the one hand, and opera, on the other, to everyone.
When directing something virtually as opposed to in person, what have you found to be the biggest differences?
AAD: Directing virtually has nothing to do with doing it in person. It is much more difficult, since there is no real contact, and I cannot give the examples myself. We are two people in front of a camera. So, talking about the character, emotions, or situations, that’s similar. The difficulty begins when you have to direct choreography or scene movements. The explanations multiply, leaving aside that in the camera you see a small portion of the room and you have to constantly move the camera to give instructions and see what the actor is doing. It’s tedious, but we have to reinvent ourself.
What are you working on next?
AAD: My next job in Spain is an adaptation of Schubert’s cycle Winterreise, where I play the Tramp together with an actor. We present this at a contemporary art festival that has been held in Logroño from January 2 to 6 for 30 years. I hope I can perform in front of the audience by then.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
AAD: First of all, I want to thank Divaria Productions and especially Ashley Bell for the opportunity she gives me to participate in these interesting projects that force me to be attentive and awake, and let my imagination work. She is a great professional, singer and friend.
To the entire team of the film, congratulations for their great professionalism and the magnificent work they have done, under such difficult conditions, that no one imagined just ten months ago.
And specially to Bay Street Theater and its wonderful and professional team, a special place and people that I hold dearly in my heart. This year I really miss not being able to be there and enjoy their company and the company of its warm audience. I hold them in my heart and I hope that in 2021 we can share so many emotions.
Rival Queens will make its virtual world premiere via Bay Street on Thursday, November 12 at 8:00 p.m. In addition to the Bay Street viewing, the Rites of Spring Festival will host a Rival Queens screening on Saturday, November 14 at 5:00 p.m.
For more information about the Bay Street screening, visit www.baystreet.org. For more information about Rival Queens, visit www.divariaproductions.com.