Maria Mercedes Diaz Garcia

Electric solo opera brings passions of intellectual woman to life

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Emilie de Chatelet defied the social gravity of her time, rising to prominence as an intellectual in the fields of physics, math, and philosophy in early 18th century France. She was a passionate woman, whose love life and intellectual life were woven together. She was married, and had affairs, including with French philosopher Voltaire. “Emilie,” a one-woman opera by composer Kaija Saariaho and her librettist author Amin Maalouf, depicts de Chatelet as she is completing her French translation of Isaac Newton’s seminal text “Principia” from Latin. Two women from Doctorate in Contemporary Music Program are teaming up to bring “Emilie” to the stage for a free performance Thursday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at Kobacker Hall on the Bowling Green State University. Soprano Hillary LaBonte will perform as the heroine in the one-person opera, and Maria Mercedes Diaz Garcia will conduct the VIVE! Ensemble. This is the first time the 2010 opera has been performed in the Midwest. LaBonte was looking for a contemporary opera featuring a strong female character. Diaz Garcia came upon the opera during her research into Saariaho’s work as part of her dissertation, which is about the way the Finnish composer’s manipulates time. The opera is small scale using a small orchestra, no choir, and one soloist, a soprano.  “I thought it was perfect. It was for the soprano we have in the program, for Hilary.” LaBonte is excited about portraying Emilie. “She is fascinating because she was exceptional, working at a time when women were not allowed in certain circles of intellectual society. Her father made sure she got a complete education, which was not normal at time. She dug into everything that was happening in intellectual society, blending science, language, math, philosophy.” When she was younger she couldn’t afford books, so she developed successful gambling strategies. “She met Voltaire, and they recognized each other as intellectual equals,” LaBonte said. The opera finds her in the late stages of pregnancy working on the translation of “Principia.” “She had this sense of foreboding that she…


Arts beat: VIVE! has right stuff in performance of orchestral masterpieces

Ed.  Note: This is the first is a series of commentary and observations on area arts events. This will supplement, not replace, the coverage BG Independent news already provides. By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Usually when Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” or Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” are performed, the size of the orchestra approaches 100. On Sunday (Oct. 8) VIVE! Ensemble conducted by Maria Mercedes Diaz Garcia took on those early 20th Century masterworks with a dozen musicians on each. The performance in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Great Gallery, was stellar. What the pieces might have missed in orchestral heft they gained in translucent textures with subtleties of voicing ringing out through the ensemble. Diaz, a student in Bowling Green State University’s Doctorate in Contemporary Music program as are a number of the other musicians in the ensemble, shaped these pieces with clarity and a sure sense of form. As the “Rite” roared to a finish, two sets of timpani and a bass drum provided enough boom to drive the piece home. But the three percussionists on the “Rite” never overwhelmed the rest of the ensemble. Instead it was the audience that was overwhelmed and moved by the performance. A few more observations: * Both pieces open with signature solos, and Kenneth Cox on flute on “Prelude” and Joshua Hart on bassoon on “Rite” did justice to their solos. The smaller ensemble meant that all the solo parts stood in greater relief. The ensemble benefits from having such strong musicianship throughout its ranks. * The picturesque “Prelude” seemed perfect for an art museum, almost like a painting come to life. In the Wolfe Gallery, visitors could see Picasso’s rendering of a faun as part of the special exhibit “Drawn from Classicism: Modern Artists’ Books.” * The ensemble and the audience combined took up about as much space as just the orchestra would in a traditional performance of these pieces. * Cox and clarinetist Derek Emch were called on to do some balancing. Each had to play multiple versions of their…


Young conductor brings Mahler masterwork to BGSU stage

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News In “Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)” the composer Gustav Mahler tried to trick fate. Diagnosed with a health ailment, and emotionally reeling from the death of his eldest daughter, he didn’t want to write what would be his Ninth Symphony. For other composers the ninth symphony was their last. So he wrote “The Song of the Earth,” a six movement work of symphonic proportions, but didn’t call it a symphony, said Bowling Green State University musicologist Eftychia Papanikolaou. The piece also called for a large orchestra so was difficult to perform. But in the early 20th century a group of Viennese musicians including Arnold Schoenberg decided this work should be performed more often. So a reduction of the score for 14 musicians was created. Conductor Mercedes Diaz Garcia, a doctoral student at the College of Musical Arts, was drawn to the piece and decided that she wanted to present it to the Bowling Green community. So she recruited the musicians and the two vocal soloists. They’ve been rehearsing the difficult hour-long work for weeks and will present it Wednesday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in Kobacker Hall on campus. The project is an act of love for all concerned. Diaz Garcia can’t pay anyone, and the project is not part of her doctoral studies. “‘The Song of the Earth’ is not about the physical earth but about the inner world, it’s about the depth of the human soul. So it’s very deep, it’s very exhausting,” the conductor said. For all its challenges she found musicians who are up to the difficult task and willing to take it on. “I think they are very interested to play this because it’s Mahler. Mahler for orchestral musicians is a huge challenge. It’s so intense and so emotionally powerful.” And because of the small number of musicians, Diaz Garcia said. “Everyone’s a soloist so it’s very demanding and very exposed for everyone. That’s something musicians like.” It gives them more freedom to express their concept of the music…