Luis Haza is all about going out with a bang. The conductor of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia is planning to fully retire at the end of the season, but not before leading the orchestra and audience on an incredible journey.
The first of his final four concerts will be at 8 p.m. Monday at the Brunswick High School auditorium, and will be the beginning of a powerful end to his illustrious career. This first show of the season, he said, will be dedicated to the power of love and the strength of the female spirit.
“The first two concerts of the season, this one coming up Monday and the one in November too are all about strong women and how composers have been so impacted by women’s stories, which inspired them to write great compositions,” Haza said.
The first piece will be “Overture to Fidelio, Op 72,” by Ludwig van Beethoven. It opens with a burst of strings as the opera’s main character, Lenore, disguises herself as a man to enter prison where her husband, Florestan, is being held.
“It is a story, an operetta, about a husband imprisoned by a tyrant, and his wife dresses as a man to gain entry to the dungeons where she is able to help free him. So this is a very strong woman. In fact, she changes her name Lenore to Fidelio, which means fidelity or faithfulness. It is a favorite composition by Beethoven,” Haza said.
From that exciting beginning, the performance will move on to another powerful piece, “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” from the first act of “La Boheme,” by Giacomo Puccini.
“This will showcase a young woman, a young soprano, who is one of the most exciting new voices in the business. Her name is Maria Valdes, and she has been highly praised throughout the nation, from California to New York,” he said.
While Valdes, who like Haza hails from a Cuban background, is quite busy, she is making a point to take time out to stop in Brunswick.
“She lives in Atlanta, and it is a wonderful thing that in spite of her busy schedule, she will be able to perform with us, the Coastal Symphony of Georgia,” he said. “So she will be singing the famous aria, Si, mi chiamano Mimi ... ‘Yes, My Name is Mimi,’ which is where she sings to her love interest.”
Following Valdes’ performance, the orchestra will tackle the “Lady of the Lake,” also known as “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert.
“We will give Maria a break and do an orchestral version of ‘Ave Maria’ by Schubert, which of course is a very strong woman,” he said. “But originally it was written as the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ which is a again another story of a strong woman, a mystical figure from Great Britain.”
Valdes will then return to the stage to perform “Tatiana’s Letter Scene,” from the opera “Eugene Onegin,” by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
“Maria will come back on stage to sing the phenomenal piece which is one of the most demanding arias to be sung by a soprano. It is a tremendously emotional story of a young girl who falls in love with the wrong guy,” he said.
“And it was written during the age of the czars, so it was a very scandalous thing to write a letter like that. And this guy is very undeserving of her love as we find out later in the opera. But she pours her heart out and that takes tremendous courage and passion.”
Later, the character goes on to marry another man, and when approached later by her former love interest, she resists the urge to fall for him again.
“She has a strong compass. When he comes back and tells her he has changed his mind, she’s already married and moved on. She totally rejects him,” Haza said.
After an intermission, the concert will finish strong with one of the most powerful stories of tragedies ever composed. It is the real-life story of Francesca da Rimini, who in the 1200s was forcibly married into a rival family. She married one of two brothers, who turned out to be very cruel. Unhappily married, Francesa fell in love and had an affair with her husband’s brother, Paolo. Once her husband discovers the relationship, he murders them both.
Haza said the story proved so powerful that Dante Allegheri featured the couple in his Inferno.
“We will do Francesca da Rimini, Op 32, by Tchaikovsky. It is one of the most powerful stories ever written about star-crossed lovers, like Romeo and Juliet,” he said.
“We see Francesca in the second circle of Dante’s hell where the lustful are blown by a never-ending whirlwind. Dante interviews her, and she tells him that the worst thing about it is remembering the beautiful time she had with her love. It is a powerful vehicle for Tchaikovsky. He was so touched by it, actually he indicated in his writings that he really identified with the character of Francesca.”
It will be a particular poignant ending for Haza, who performed the piece with one of his mentors many years prior as a member of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. The Russian cellist and conductor, Mstislav Rostropovich, and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, a vocalist, became very close to Haza. He will dedicate this performance to their memory.
“It may be hard for me ... it will be very emotional. I will be holding back tears but I wanted the opening of my last season to pay homage to them,” he said.