La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba)

World Premiere Production

Cleveland Opera Theater is thrilled to announce the World Premiere production of the new opera: La Casa de Bernarda Alba. This opera is based on Herederos de Federico Garcia Lorca's final play of the same name and features an all female cast, and bi-lingual (English / Spanish) libretto written by OBIE-Award-Winning librettist, Caridad Svich, with music by rising star composer, Griffin Candey.

This is our first commissioned work and our current opera in development within {NOW} Fest, our annual series of events to create, develop, and produce new opera.

We are collaborating with Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, a co-commissioner and co-producer of this opera, and with the Lorca estate, which has licensed this work for our exclusive adaptation into an opera. This will be the culmination of an incremental multi-year development process.


Costume Design Sketch for the title character of La Casa de Bernarda Alba by Costume Designer, Tesia Benson, Assistant Professor in Make-Up and Costume Construction at Baldwin Wallace University

Caridad Svich.jpeg

About the Librettist

Caridad Svich is an award-winning playwright, songwriter/lyricist, translator, and editor who was born in the United States of Cuban-Argentine-Spanish-Croatian parents. She received a 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the theatre, a 2012 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award and NNPN rolling world premiere for Guapa, and the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Primus Prize for her play The House of the Spirits, based on the Isabel Allende novel. She has won the National Latino Playwriting Award (sponsored by Arizona Theatre Company) twice, including in the year 2013 for her play Spark. She has been short-listed for the PEN Award in Drama four times, including in the year 2012 for her play Magnificent Waste. Her works in English and Spanish have been seen at venues across the US and abroad, among them San Diego Repertory Theatre, Gala Hispanic Theatre, Denver Center Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, 59E59, The Women’s Project, Repertorio Espanol, Salvage Vanguard, Teatro Mori (Chile), Artheater-Cologne (Germany), Ilkhom Theater (Uzbekistan), and Edinburgh Fringe Festival/UK. Recent premieres include The Hour of All Things at Ensemble Studio Theatre/NY under William Carden’s direction; Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (based on the Mario Vargas Llosa novel) at Repertorio Espanol in New York City, In the Time of the Butterflies (based on Julia Alvarez’ novel) at San Diego Rep; JARMAN (all this maddening beauty) at Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C., and Upon the Fragile Shore at Summerworks Festival in Toronto, Canada. Among her key works are 12 Ophelias, Any Place But Here, Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues, and Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable). Seven of her plays are published in Instructions for Breathing and Other Plays (Seagull Books and University of Chicago Press, 2014). Five of her plays radically re-imagining ancient Greek tragedies are published in Blasted Heavens (Eyecorner Press, University of Denmark, 2012). Among her awards/recognitions are: Harvard University Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship TCG/Pew Charitable Trusts National Theater Artist Residency at INTAR, NEA/TCG Playwriting Residency at the Mark Taper Theatre Forum Latino Theatre Initiative. She sustains a parallel career as a theatrical translator, chiefly of the dramatic work of Federico Garcia Lorca as well as works by Calderon de la Barca, Lope de Vega, Julio Cortazar, Victor Rascon Banda, Antonio Buero Vallejo and contemporary works from Mexico, Cuba and Spain. She is a Lifetime Member of EST, and is on the advisory board for the US-Mexico Exchange at the Lark Play Development Center in New York City.

About the Composer

Griffin Candey (b. 1988) is an American opera composer dutifully committed to creating vocal and theatrical works that, by approaching forward-looking subject matter, aim to both expand and preserve these genres. Having spent his early years studying as an opera singer, Candey’s vocal music retains a level of practical vocal finesse that its interpreters praise for its “prosody that showcases both the words and the singers,” its “intuitive rhythm,” and its “lyricism and emotional depth."


Candey's latest opera, Sweets by Kate -- described as “hilarious and moving,” “a piece with charming and elaborate complexity” and “a meaningful and beautiful work of art” -- was commissioned and premiered by the Midwest Institute of Opera (July 2015,) with subsequent runs at Marble City Opera of Knoxville, TN (May 2016) and in New York City, NY with OperaRox Productions (Spring 2017.)  May 2016 saw the premiere of his latest chamber song cycle (All Children Except One) at Bard College Conservatory of Music, and December 2016 will see the world premiere of his orchestral song cycle (Bagidaabii-Neyaashi) with the Marquette Symphony Orchestra (in Marquette, MI.

Griffin Candey Headshot

About the Play

Utilizing an all-female cast, The House of Bernarda Alba is a tragic drama set in Spain centered on the family and legacy of Bernarda Alba and her five daughters -- Angustias, Magdalena, Amelia, Martirio, and Adela, in descending order of age.  Her home also shelters the elder (and increasingly senile) mother of Bernarda, María Josefa, and their long-time maid, La Poncia.


The opera begins with the ringing of cathedral bells -- which peal out from the nearby church, in which the funeral of Bernarda’s second husband takes place.  Immediately, one notes that Bernarda is an exacting and unforgiving woman -- she frightens off the townswomen who enter after the funeral for their gossip and “poison tongues,” she feels little sympathy for those in poverty, and she frequently demands that her daughters withhold their emotions.  After driving away the townswomen, Bernarda demands that her daughters observe a strict eight year mourning period, during which all must continually wear black, remain indoors, tend their needlework, and keep themselves entirely chaste.  


Adela, the youngest daughter, is often the first and most vocal to rail against these many restrictions, speaking out against Bernarda whenever possible and, on one occasion, donning a bright green dress (while threatening to traipse down the street in it.)  Many of her sisters feel a similar strain, but rarely act or speak out.  La Poncia  maintains a double-edged relationship with the family, despising Bernarda for her exacting and heartless ways but acting as a surrogate mother for her unlucky and oft-abused daughters.  The grandmother, Maria Josefa, remains locked up in her room, but escapes on multiple occasions to sing lullabies or to state that she’s fleeing to the seashore to get married.


The primary source of conflict comes from a duplicitous suitor from the town -- Pepe el Romano, a man who proposes to marry the elder and sickly Angiustas for her wealth, but carries on nightly affairs with Adela.  (The second youngest, Martirio, also harbors feelings for Pepe, which mostly manifest in small outbursts and her eventual stealing of Angiustas’ portrait of him.)  Bernarda remains stubbornly unaware of this, but the maid, La Poncia, understands all too well -- on multiple occasions, she warns both Adela and Bernarda about the severity of the situation which threatens to spill over and ruin the family.  Neither budge.  Tensions build and build -- more and more arguments wrack the house, with Bernarda tries to stamps them out with biting curses (and some violence,) but it only works for so long.


Upon the announcement of Pepe’s engagement to Angiustas, Adela attempts to derail the situation: she reveals to Bernarda her frequent visits with Pepe (after such a visit,) and declares that she’ll “be his, regardless of the shame it brings.”  Livid, Bernarda grabs a gun from the wall and pursues Pepe outside, firing a shot.  Martirio re-enters, insinuating Pepe’s death.  Adela, aghast, flees to her room, where she hangs herself.  Upon discovering of her body, Bernarda ramps up her former restrictions -- demanding that “death must be addressed face to face” and that Adela be “buried as a virgin,” no matter who says otherwise.  The drama ends with Bernarda shouting one word, over and over: “silence.”

Significance and Practicality of the Opera

Much of this plot resonates loudly with current issues of gender equality -- feminist questions and manifestations of internalized misogyny, views on female sexuality and the ways in which society interacts with (or punishes) it, the prevalence of young suicides in America, the image of a family pulling itself apart.  Audiences will see generations pitted against one another and identify with the players -- with Bernarda for keeping the reins of her family, with her daughters for feeling suffocated, with the grandmother for being ignored in her advanced age, or with the maids for being kept underfoot.


The practicality of this piece shines through in many forms: a unit set, few technical requirements, a succinct run time, an all-female cast (which utilizes the predominance of female singers available at all levels,) and a petite orchestration.  The all-female ensemble allows for a diverse range of singer-actors: more experienced performers for Bernarda, La Poncia, and the like, and different stages of younger artists for the daughters and comprimario roles.  In this way, the opera nurtures a built-in support system, allowing younger artists to learn from their predecessors by uniting them onstage.  This also lends itself well to either productions or workshops in collegiate settings or young artist programs.