Just as a singer benefits from the services of a vocal coach, speakers prepare and polish their presentations with the help of speech coaches. In recent weeks, three speakers representing the different faces of Miami’s immigrant community turned to the CommArts Studio to prepare for their roles in a unique collaborative program between the Florida Grand Opera and Florida International University. The project is part of the Opera’s ongoing effort to connect with the South Florida community and attract new people. In May, the Florida Grand Opera will debut The Consul, an American opera by Gian Carlo Menotti that depicts the endless waiting rooms where emigrants go in hopes of obtaining exit visas.
The production on Sunday, March 29 was part of the Opera’s “Community Conversations” program, which receives funding from the Knight Foundation. The juxtaposition of the speakers’ stories of their immigrant journeys with arias from the opera combined for a powerful presentation of the long and arduous journeys immigrants undertake to flee oppression and come to America. Char Eberly, head of the CommArts Studio, helped each speaker develop his or her own story into a compelling narrative and deliver it in a way that fit both the speaker and the story. The speakers included Marleine Bastien, a community activist and founder/director of a Miami non-profit for Haitian women and families who fled Haiti’s dictatorship in 1981; Allan Hall, a retired attorney and college professor who survived the Holocaust and escaped Poland in 1947; and Maydel Santana, a media relations professional who immigrated from Cuba during the Mariel boat lift in 198o. The free event drew a large crowd to the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables and attendees had the opportunity to meet the speakers and the singers afterwards at a reception.