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João Ripper in Amazonas

Interview with the outstanding director, composer and cultural manager who on May 27th premieres his opera Kawah Ijen (O vulcão azul) at the XXI Festival Amazonas de Ópera  in Manaus.

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Kawah Ijen (O vulcão azul) is an unpublished work, commissioned by the Festival Amazonas de Ópera. The story takes place around the Kawah Ijen volcano in Indonesia, where the owner of a mining company has enriched for years at the expense of the exploitation of the inhabitants of the village. Because they reach the depths of the crater to collect the best sulfur stones, the young miners perish by inhaling the poisonous gas. Thanks to the pact with the divinity of the volcano, the owner is protected from the constant revolts and threats of the town. However, everything changes when he covets and rapes a young woman from the village who will give birth to one who will change the destiny of everyone and the volcano itself.

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Kawah Ijen (O vulcão azul) arrives at the Teatro Amazonas de Manaus, under the direction of maestro Marcelo de Jesús and stage direction by William Pereira. It is set in Indonesia and is the first opera to incorporate the Gamelán into orchestration. The Embassy of Indonesia in Brazil had the instrument made especially for the occasion and donated it to the Teatro Amazonas.

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Where does the inspiration for composing Kawah Ijen come from? How do you start working on it?
In 2016, during the Onheama opera season in Portugal, Elizabeth Davis, the percussionist of the San Carlos National Theater orchestra and an expert on Gamelan, brought me the story of El Dios del volcano (The God of the Volcano), written by Fernando Barata. The story takes place in Jakarta, around the Kawah Ijen volcano, which expels blue lava due to the high concentration of sulfur.

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Maestro Luiz Fernando Malheiro, the Artistic Director of the Amazonas de Opera Festival, took the decisive step by making Kawah Ijen a commission for this year’s edition. I began to work on the libretto and to investigate about the Gamelán, which so fascinated Debussy at the end of the 19th century. I structured and wrote the opera libretto in three acts with scenes linked by instrumental interludes. When I presented the project to Toto Riyanto, Ambassador of Indonesia, he had a western-style Gamelán made in Yogyakarta to be used with the orchestra and brought the puppets of the Wayang (shadow theater) performed in the second act. The Gamelán was donated to the Teatro Amazonas that now has the only instrument of the genre in Brazil and, perhaps, in South America.

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What importance do you give to the creation and staging of new work or new repertoires?
The renewal of the repertoire is fundamental for the future of the genre. The Latin American public tends to be less conservative than the European public and, therefore, our theaters are more likely to commission and produce new titles, create unpublished formats of presentation and open ways for the opera industry. In addition, the renewal of the repertoire could add social action programs through music that spread across the continent. The opera is an excellent means of professional training in its various skills necessary to the stages of creation, production and realization.

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Why premiere at the Amazonas Festival? How important is this kind of events in Latin America?
The Festival Amazonas de Ópera presents five titles over the course of two months, with works from the great repertoire alongside Brazilian and Latin American operas, some of them in world premiere. In the framework of its 21st edition, FAO is the main event of the genre in Brazil.

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Luiz Fernando Malheiro, Artistic Director, does a fantastic job in conducting the event and the artistic ensembles of the Amazonas Theater. Flavia Furtado, Stage Manager and Executive Director of the Festival, is today one of the main Brazilian names in the area of ​​theater management. The Festival has the fundamental support of the Government of the Amazon, through its Ministry of Culture. Since its creation, in addition to the renewing wind in the Brazilian lyric scene, the festival provided a great economic and social impact in Manaus through the increase of commercial, tourist activity and generation of direct and indirect jobs.

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I feel at home in the Teatro Amazonas. I love the particular dynamics of the festival that makes possible a closer coexistence with teachers, conductors, orchestra musicians and technicians. Onheama, released in 2014, was the result of an assignment I received from FAO to write an opera about the Amazonian theme for young audiences. It was refueled in 2015 and received a new production in Portugal the following year. In 2016, I wrote the stage cantata Natividad for the end of year concert of the Teatro Amazonas and, now, I have the joy of returning with the opera Kawah Ijen.

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Biography of the Director
João Ripper is a composer, orchestra director, cultural manager and professor at the School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He obtained his PhD in Composition at The Catholic University of the America, in Washington D.C. and was perfected in orchestral regency with Maestro Guillermo Scarabino in Buenos Aires, and he studied “Économie et Financement de la Culture”, at the Université Paris-Dauphine. He was director of the School of Music of the UFRJ between 1999 and 2003. In 2004 he accepted the invitation of the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro to direct the Sala Cecília Meireles, where he stayed for 11 years. In 2015, he was appointed President of the Municipal Theater Foundation of Rio de Janeiro, a position he held until 2017. Ripper is the current President of the Brazilian Academy of Music, an institution founded by Heitor Villa-Lobos in 1945 that brings together 40 composers, performers and Brazilian musicologists.

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His recent releases and future productions include Onheama, Domitila, Piedade, O Diletante, From My Window, Desenredo, Five Poems by Vinicius de Moraes, Natividade – Cantata Cênica and Gloria Concertato.

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