El Palacio Imaginado

CREDITS | SYNOPSIS | Reviews | Photos (Carlos Wagner's site)

El Palacio Imaginado , chamber opera in three acts by Hilda Paredes. Libretto by Adriana Diaz Enciso, based on a story by Isabel Allende.

The story takes place somewhere in Latin America where the native Indians had been living for several thousand years.

These Indians were an ancient tribe, so poor that no one had bothered to extract taxes from them, and so meek that they had never been recruited for war. Gradually, the Indians who did not die in slavery or as a result of tortures, or as victims of unknown illnesses, scattered deep into the jungle. Always in hiding, they survived for centuries. They came to be so skilful in the art of dissimulation that history did not record them. No one has seen them, but the peasants who live in the region where our story takes place, say they have heard them in the forest.

The dictator of the nation who calls himself “The Benefactor,” holds a speech for the inauguration of his newly erected “Summer Palace.” In his speech we recognize the ubiquitous elements of the South American dilemma. On one hand, the suppression (or even extinction) of the native indigenous population, and on the other, the conflict between the search for a unique identity and the inability to shake off the colonial forces as a constant model and point of reference.

As the celebrations die out, the Palace gradually gets inhabited by shadows that communicate through whispers in an intelligible language. They are the symbol of the suppressed indigenous population. No one can see them, but their fascinating and eerie presence can be felt everywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Liebermann, ambassadors from a first-world country, are received with pomp and circumstance. Mr. Liebermann suffers from the tropical heat and the mosquitoes. He complains to his beloved lapdogs how he regrets not having been sent to a more civilized country. A reception follows. From the dialogues we can conclude that here everyone betrays everyone. On one hand “The Benefactor” is exploited in a oil-business deal with the ambassador Liebermann, while the self same “Benefactor” plans to abduct his beautiful wife Marcia, with whom (much against his nature) he has fallen in love. The following day Marcia is taken prisoner with typical military brutality, and the “Benefactor” abducts her to his “Summer Palace.”

After an unsuccessful attempt to win his wife back, the intimidated Liebermann returns to his homeland, seeking comfort with his favourite lapdog.

Meanwhile, Marcia has to endure the Benefactor’s brutality. He rapes her repeatedly without being able to reach sexual satisfaction. Scenes of self-degradation and helpless violence ensue, showing us the repulsive private side of the seemingly all-powerful dictator. Marcia becomes aware of the shadows around her. At the climax of the opera, in a scene of true magic realism, Marcia slides from the violent embrace of the Benefactor and becomes a shadow herself. With this masterstroke the piece connects the fate of the oppressed Indio population with that of women in a calculating, power-obsessed chauvinistic society.

Again years pass. The “Benefactor” has died. The Summer Palace has been engulfed by the jungle. Democracy has taken the place of dictatorship. Money that has been allotted to the arts must be spent. The minister for culture decides to create a cultural center.

Location: The Summer Palace. A frantic search in the jungle ensues, but without success. The Summer Palace can’t be found. The search is abandoned, and at this moment, the Palace, like a fantastical mirage, rises above the jungle and disappears again.