2020 UPDATE! Due to unprecedented Covid-19-related circumstances, we are premiering fragments of the opera with alternative singers from September onwards in Madrid. Details and 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.
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.
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
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.
Thanks to Pedro, I have written my opera prima.
Rest in peace, Pedro, my dear friend.”
Madrid, September 2017
Santiago Miralles Huete was born in Madrid in 1962, where he studied Law and Philosophy. As a diplomat he has lived in Korea, Salvador, Germany, Tunisia, Germany, the Netherlands and Mozambique. He currently lives in Madrid.
In 2000 his novel La tierra ligera was published by Ediciones de la Discreta, and was one of the finalists of the “Tigre Juan” award for best debut novel published in Spain. Set in El Salvador in 1916, its protagonist is a mysterious character linked to Maximilian of Mexico.
With La fuente de Orfeo (Algaida, 2000) he won the best novel prize (Premio Río Manzanares), awarded by the Madrid Town Hall. In 2003 he published La ONG (Ediciones Martínez Roca), a suspense thriller set in Afganistan. In 2004 he won the first Premio Río Manzanares prize once again with Dos mil Madrid cincuenta y cuatro (Editorial Calambur), a science fiction novel set in the year 2054.
In 2005, Ediciones Martínez Roca published La lengua de Dios (Los grandes escritores del Siglo de Oro y sus luchas de poder), which recreates the Golden Age of Spanish literature around the court of Philip IV, featuring writers such as Calderón and Quevedo and artists like El Greco and Velázquez.
En 2006 Ediciones de La Discreta published his novel El Círculo Leibniz.
With Las letras de bronce (Editorial El Páramo, 2010) he won the Short Novel Award in Córdoba. This is a fictional work about the origin of the printing press from the perspective of a fifteenth century Spanish copyist travelling to the Far East.
In Velázquez y Rubens, conversación en El Escorial (Turner Publicaciones, 2010) he presents a dialogue between these two painters, in theatrical form, where they discuss art and politics in the seventeenth century.
In Preludios, una historia de la música en 24 diálogos (Turner Publicaciones, 2012) Miralles takes us through some of Europe’s most important moments in classical music via dialogues between composers.
In 2013, the play Entre Marta y Lope, which he co-wrote, was premièred at the Teatro Español in Madrid: a dialogue between playwright Lope de Vega and Marta de Nevares, his last lover.
Santiago Miralles has published articles in various magazines, taken part in short story anthologies and written the prologue to a variety of books.
Pablo Abraira I Picasso
Pablo Abraira is one of the most-loved popular crooners in Spain, a big star in the 1970s, who continues to record and tour to popular and critical acclaim.
He discovered the Beatles, pop, soul, rhythm 'n' blues and rock 'n' roll at an early age. His first recording was with the '60s blues band Los Grimm, alongside Pedro Ruy Blas.
He recorded nine solo albums, with huge hits such as O tú o nada, Gavilán o paloma and Pólvora mojada, which were all number 1 in the charts. He has toured Spain and Latin America extensively.
Pablo played the lead role in the first ever musical in Spanish, Lovy, receiving excellent reviews. With his looks and talent, he soon became the first Spanish star in the world of musicals, playing Che Guevara in Evita (1982) and Jesucristo Superstar (1984), both in Spain and Latin America.
In June 1994 he played Polpoj in Marat-Sade, directed by Miguel Narros at the prestigious Centro Dramático Nacional, and he later starred in La Magia de Broadway in the historical Teatro Lara, in Madrid.
In 2004 he released his album Ahora, which he co-produced with Alfonso Pérez. Universal later released 30 de febrero de 2006, with songs from his first and last albums.
In 2010 he presented the TV series Weekend, where he experienced new adventures, taking part in extreme sports and extensive travel.
He later embarked on a long tour, Volvería a volver, where he performed his old hits alongside some of the songs which made him so popular in Evita and Jesucristo Superstar. He added to the mix new material and covers of songs originally performed by Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Beatles, Violeta Parra, Joaquín Sabina or Serrat – all the artists who had left a deep imprint in Pablo’s life, and that of so many others in his generation. With this tour, Pablo reconnected with his Spanish and Latin American audience.
Pablo is currently working on a new album and continues to tour with new material.
Victor Ullate Roche I Eugenio Arias
Víctor Ullate Roche has extensive training in all disciplines - dance, theatre, acting, singing - and has a wide experience in musicals, theatre, television and film, as well as running the Performing Arts school founded by his mother, Carmen Roche, more than 20 years ago. He has toured the world with the Lindsay Kemp company and starred in musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Cats, Grease, Singing in the Rain, West Side Story, Spamalot and Hercules.
His training includes graduating at Maurice Béjart’s Rudra School and attending the NIC film school. His impressive list of teachers includes Mariano Barroso, John Strasberg, Antonio Fava (Reggio Emilia), Gabriel Olivares and Eva Lesmes, amongst others.
In 1994 he joined the Lindsay Kemp company, with whom he toured internationally. In late 1996 he began his career in musical theatre, playing leading roles in Beauty and the Beast, Cats, Grease,, Happy End, Singing in the Rain, West Side Story, Spamalot, Hercules, Quisiera ser, Mar y cielo, Te quiero, eres perfecto… ya te cambiaré and Canciones para no cortarse las venas.
On television he has worked on series like Tres son multitud, Simuladores, Ay, señor, señor, A las once en casa and Velvet, amongst others; in film, on Km 0 and Pon un hombre en tu vida, and he has danced in Otello and Carmen.
In the theatre he has recently starred in Orquesta de Señoritas, Romeo y Julieta, Clown Quijote de la Mancha, Cyrano de Nueva Orleans, El día del Padre, El extraño viaje, Mi primera vez, El otro gran teatro del mundo, Cambalache, Como gustéis and Pareja abierta, el musical.
Currently, Víctor directs the School of Performing Arts that his mother, Carmen Roche, created more than 20 years ago: www.scaenavictorullateroche.com.
OUR PRODUCTION TEAM IN MADRID
Logos, video and graphic design: Óscar Méndez “Lobo”
Actors/singers: Pablo Abraira, Víctor Ullate, Natalia Farrán
Stage director: Carlota Barber
Sound engineer: Alex Villier
Lighting technician: Pep Codines
Stage manager: David Buixadé
Musical and artistic direction: Ramón Farrán
Original idea by Pedro Arias and Ramón Farrán