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A NEW JAZZ OPERA IN TWO ACTS

RAMÓN FARRÁN   I  MUSIC

SANTIAGO MIRALLES  I  SPANISH LIBRETTO

2021-22 UPDATE! Due to unprecedented Covid-19-related circumstances, we only premiered fragments of the opera in September 2020 in Madrid, with a brand new cast. We were one of the few shows to take place in the midst of the pandemic (of course, we took every precaution). Updates to follow!

Picasso’s Friend is a blend of opera and musical with a strong Spanish flavour and jazz influences, embracing the most recent musical languages from classical music to jazz, via the contemporary movement. Images never seen before, drawn by Picasso’s hand, will be projected onto a screen and the music will illustrate memories and journeys from the dual perspective of the main character.

 

This jazz opera, as his authors like to describe it, will be performed by the prestigious ONJAZZ (Spanish National Jazz Orchestra) chamber ensemble. It’s conceived to be performed by three actors/singers and a small Spanish contemporary corps de ballet.

 

The ONJAZZ Symphonic Chamber Orchestra (part of the Spanish National Jazz Orchestra) is the ideal ensemble to create the right feel and style for each passage, given the musical diversity and eclecticism of this work. This Chamber Orchestra, well versed in jazz, as well as in the classical and contemporary languages, will bring this jazz opera to life with the ideas and forms conceived by the composer and orchestrator.

 

The music is, at times, almost another character in the opera. It describes personal situations, such as childhood reminiscences or important journeys, and transports us to specific memories and moments in the characters’ lives. Sometimes, this only occurs in musical form, with the narrative performed in other instances by the corps de ballet or the actors/singers, either as soloists or singing in duo or trio.

 

The set is minimalist: a diorama or screen which will take up the entire back of the stage, a guitar and a chair. The lighting will be a crucial part of the staging, as it will create the entire atmosphere of the set in each one of the scenes.

 

This jazz opera lasts approximately two and a half hours, with a twenty-minute interval.

 

The action takes place in Picasso’s studio in the Mediterranean Riviera during one of the last days of his life. The characters are Pablo Picasso, his wife Jacqueline and his Spanish barber, Eugenio Arias.

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While Jacqueline shows concern for her husband’s health, trying to keep him entertained and ensuring he doesn’t work too hard and get too tired, Eugenio Arias and Pablo Picasso talk about their common bonds: their shared past during the Spanish Civil War, the communist party and the situation in Spain; their condition as exiles; art, Pablo’s talent, friends, the Spanish republicans who approached the artist for help; and bullfighting, one of the great passions they both shared.

 

This work celebrates the intense friendship between Picasso and Arias, who saw Pablo as his second father. For twenty-three years, through their conversations, memories, jokes and common interests, the relationship between these two men helped the artist feel less far away, more closely bound to Spain.

 

The exuberant Picasso, bursting with creativity, contrasts with the serene, slightly sarcastic and humorous Arias, who invites him to recall previous chapters in his life: his childhood in Málaga, his time in Galicia, Barcelona and Paris; his attitude to war, or the sometimes troubled relationships he had with his children, lovers and wives. Picasso paints, Arias shaves him, and Jacqueline does everything she possibly can for them, constantly showing her love for Pablo. The threat of Picasso’s death hovers over the entire oeuvre.

PICASSO’S FRIEND

PICASSO’S FRIEND

The jazz opera Picasso’s Friend requires the three voices of the lead characters, a reduced corps de ballet, three pianists, a soprano sax which doubles with baritone sax and flute, a violin, a double bass that doubles with electric bass, a percussionist/drummer and a director, thus forming a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic base to support the nuances and colours of the instrumentation.

 

A small dance group will represent the feminine element in the life and work of Picasso. The dancers, through a dance of masks, will evoke the essence of Andalusia and the most significant women in the life of the painter.

 

Ramón Farrán has created a very particular, reduced and original orchestration for this piece. Another novel element is the fact that the three actors/singers have trained voices, but not classically so. Ramón conceived all this from the first conversation about the commission with Pedro Arias, son of Eugenio, with whom he became friends thanks to jazz — almost like an echo, in the present day, of the story told in this jazz opera.  

To see fragments of the Picasso’s Friend score, go HERE

To listen to fragments of the Picasso’s Friend score, go HERE

Ramón Farrán

Music

Drummer, composer, arranger, producer and conductor, Ramón Farrán is a musician with more than 60 years of experience, and one of the founders of the jazz movement in Spain.

For Ramón’s biography, go HERE

How It All Began

“After one of our performances in the spectacular outdoor medieval theatre of Buitrago del Lozoya one summer’s day, Pedro Arias came to greet me to say that he was a fan of our music and that he wanted to talk to me. The mayor, Angel Martínez, who had talked to me about Pedro a great deal, introduced us, and Pedro gave me a hug. Pedro accompanied us during dinner and we talked and talked about his father, Eugenio. He told me wonderful stories and incredible anecdotes and asked me to compose a piece of music about the friendship between Pablo Picasso and Eugenio Arias, Picasso’s barber and confidante for thirty years, while they were both in the South of France, in exile. I gladly accepted, but explained that, because of other work commitments, I couldn’t firmly commit to it at that time.

 

I still could not confirm I could do the job and, after several meetings in Madrid and calls from Paris, Pedro phoned me one more time, telling me that the next day he was coming to Madrid on a very quick trip to collect some documents and that he needed to see me urgently. I had to make an appointment with him at the hospital, where my wife Piti’s mother was spending her last days.

 

We talked for half an hour at the most in the hospital cafeteria, and he made me firmly commit to the project. He had given me a great deal of information during our previous meetings, including copies of some of Picasso's drawings, never seen before, always conveying the great respect and admiration Eugenio and Pablo felt for each other. We said goodbye with a hug and told me that he would send me money right away so I could start the assignment. Three weeks later, I received an e-mail from Madeleine, Pedro's wife, telling me that he had died. It was an emotional shock for me ... I understood that Pedro had come to say goodbye to me and to make me promise that I would make his dream come true. That's why he’d told me all those stories with so much interest and excitement. I spent a few days with my morale at its lowest, as I had lost a real friend ... but a few days later I realized that I had a goal that would help me recover, and I decided to dedicate a year of my life - or more, if necessary - to honour our friendship and do what I’d promised: compose an opera based on the stories he’d so lovingly told me. I started researching the period and the subject thoroughly, with Picasso’s famous quote in mind: "If inspiration comes to visit, it’s better if it finds you working."

 

I spent six months working, locked up in my Madrid studio writing and writing for an average of fourteen hours a day, with six hours’ sleep a night, and the rest for eating and resting. On Sundays I rested all day. Once the work was finished, I spent two months reviewing and correcting errors. I even postponed meeting my new grandson in England a few weeks in order to finish the work, so immersed in the process I was.

 

One day, during my voluntary confinement, I met the perfect writer to write the libretto for the opera. It's such a human story, so rich, sometimes funny, always interesting ... I had to find the right person who could write the best possible text, and I didn’t want to delay the composition of the work. Fortunately, chance – or, quite possibly, fate - led me to an excellent librettist, Santiago Miralles, whom I now consider a good friend, who made the ideas, images, anecdotes and words blend and fit beautifully with the music.

 

This is a story about friendship: the friendship between Eugenio and Pablo; the friendship between Pedro and I; and new friendships that are being born during this process. My promise is now fulfilled and my conscience is at peace, and Pedro's family will be by my side at the première of Picasso's Friend.