The artistic bridge between Argentina and the world is forever extending, with more-and-more artists and directors coming to the country, as well as Argentine talent traveling abroad to work on the finest stages in foreign climes.

Crystal Manich, US-born opera director landed about a month ago in Argentina’s capital, to work on Buenos Aires Lirica’s latest production: Werther — pronounced Vertear — which debuts today at the gorgeous and historical Teatro Avenida on Avenida de Mayo.

“Opera is a much more culturally-integrated art form in Argentina than in the States. There’s a tradition of opera here that is very European and very strong. It’s impressive.”

Manich knows her opera and is consequently a very busy lady. It’d be kind of impossible to name every production she’s ever worked on, but her impressive body of work extends to some of the world’s finest operas, such as La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Aida and La Traviata, where she has had both assistant and directing roles.

“I’ve done a lot of shows at Pittsburgh Opera, as it’s my home town. That’s where I went to college, and where I started as an assistant director in opera. They have been really good to me, they gave me my first big job directing La Boheme in 2009.”

The talented director from Pittsburgh, now a resident of New York, was hand-picked to work on this year’s production, after having steered the directional ship on Adriana Lecouvreur in 2014 with BA Lirica.

How she got to Argentina is an interesting story. It all started when she was finishing her work as assistant artistic director for Cirque du Soleil in Brazil on their Quidam tour in 2009-2010. During that time when she was visiting Buenos Aires she stumbled across posters for Lirica, contacted them and a month after meeting with them, she was offered the job to direct Madame Butterfly (2010).

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“It was really serendipitous, fast, weird and wonderful. It just goes to show you how much a letter can do. By that point I had two full productions under my belt. I had been assisting a lot, so it was wonderful to be offered a directing role.”

Since then she has returned to Argentina various times to direct, most notably directing La Traviata (2011) for the same company.

“They kept wanting me back, but sometimes the seasons didn’t always match. “Werther was offered to me last year in August after Adriana Lecouvreur closed. I was very lucky to be able to participate.”

This year she is directing Jules Massenet’s 1892 masterpiece (the guy that wrote Manon in 1884. Duh), starring local singers: Gustavo López Manzitti, Florencia Machado, Norberto Marcos and Laura Sangiorgio to name a few, with Pedro-Pablo Prudencio directing the music.

Planning started last year, designs were finalized in April and rehearsals started in July.

“I’m doing Werther in Boston next year as well and it’s a totally different approach, so I’ve been thinking about this piece a lot, looking at it a lot of different ways,” Manich said.

“My main goal is always to really define the character relationships. It’s about trying to really recreate human behaviour. On the stage, through the music and through the text. It sounds really obvious, but it’s really hard to achieve in opera, because so much of the technique requires the singer to angle a certain way so that the sounds gets downstage toward the audience properly. Opera’s cliché is that people stand there and just sing. So I really try to break that down as much as I can and make it as naturalistic as possible in terms of the acting. Basic theatre work but applied to opera.”

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Spanish is not a problem for Manich as she was born to Puerto Rican parents, which has enabled her to hone in on specifics of the French libretto with the all-Argentine cast.

“We have a French language coach who is excellent. The thing the conductor and I have imposed the most upon the singers is the meaning of the text. Most of them already had that concept before they got here. Italian is more comfortable for Spanish-speakers, especially here in Argentina. It’s about making sure that we all know what we are saying and get that in with the pronunciation. It’s a lot of ingredients to mix together. What I think that in the end you get is a really full performance from all of that detailed work.”

When it comes to catering to a digitized world, Manich showed no fear regarding drawing in new audience members.

“The desire to create something that new people will show up for is kind of a universal problem in opera. We’ve done a great job on this production…

Opera is not what people think it is, especially not in my world. They should give it a shot. There is so much to be had. So much to receive from this incredible music. Opera inspired cinematic music. It’s really huge and gorgeous and also quite romantic and hot. Music really affects the soul and I don’t think anybody would argue with that. I think the word classical music scares people and I don’t think it should. The singers are incredible and world-class. The local talent is amazing. We also have kids in the show, which is always a really nice thing to have. Live theatre still really has a place in our lives and it should.”

Werther debuts tonight at Teatro Avenida (Av. de Mayo 1222) and runs on the following dates: –

Friday 31st July at 8pm

Sunday 2nd August at 6pm

Thursday 6th August at 8pm

Saturday 8th August at 8pm

Tickets can be purchased on Plateanet.com or directly from the box office.

Follow Melanie on Twitter — @soymelah and check out her blog here.