1973 Music theatre Tv opera

La Cubana or A Life for the Arts (La Cubana oder Ein Leben für die Kunst)

Television opera (vaudeville) in five scenes by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

after themes from the novel “Canción de Rachel” by Miguel Barnet

Scene of action: Havana
Time of action: 1906–1934
Background story: 1959

Commissioned by the WNET Opera Theatre, New York

Year of composition 1973
Duration 87 minutes

World premieres

First transmission of the TV-Production March 4th, 1974

Channel 13 (USA) · WNET Opera Theatre, New York

Production Kirk Browning
Stage and costume design Rouben Ter-Arutunian
Conductor Hans Werner Henze


Scenic World premiere May 28th, 1975

München · Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz

Production Imo Moszkovicz
Stage and costume design Jürgen Henze
Choirmaster Wilfried Koch
Conductor Peter Falk


This piece has been freely adapted from Miguel Barnet’s documentary novel “Canción de Rachel”, the tragicomic autobiography of an old Havana music-hall queen with an ambiguous past. It takes place in the past and the present, and with wit, parody and symbolism, it deals with the political nature of a certain artistic ideology that insists on its detachment from politics. see also “Songs and Dances” · “La piccola Cubana” · “Ragtimes and Habaneras”

Hans Werner Henze


Rachel sopranoa Caribbean beauty
Lucile mezzosopranoa young whore
Ofelia parte parlataRachel’s maid
Eusebio tenorea young man from a wealthy family
Yarini parte parlataa pimp
Don Alfonso baritonocircus master
Pacoan artist (may be played by Eusebio)
Der Cimarrón declamato intonatoa blackman
Federico tenorea student (may be played by Eusebio)

theatre director (may be played by Don Alfonso)
declamato intonatoa telescope hirer
baritonoa stilt walker, also witness
In the 3rd and 4th scene and the epilogue (depicted by the telescope hirer):
a senator
President of the Republic (played by the senator)
a gangster boss
(played by the senator)
Lotota pimp
Sloppy Joebodyguard and gangster (played by Lotot)
attori o cantanti6 beggars, also witnesses in the epilogue
cleaning lady
ballet master female pianist shoeshine scene shifter Archbishop farmboy roués
dancing girls
US marines onlookers mourners
circus goers
stage hands artists
children blackmen
people in disguise café customers beggars
farmers demonstraters


Characters in the play within the play (4th scene):

Teodoro (=Magdalena de Maupin)a dandy (played by Rachel)
Alberto a gentleman (played by Eusebio)
Rositahis wife (played by Lucile)
Ballett ad lib.people in disguise



Characters in the background story (prologue, intermezzi, epilogue):


an old lady
Ofeliaher maid
Lucilean old whore
an old critic
an old scene shifter

(With the exception of Rachel and Ofelia, these performers should be identical with those of the main-story)



witnesses: all singers, actors or soloists:

an old cabaret girl an old critic
an old scene shifter
an old shoeshine
an old cleaning lady
an old female pianist
a stilt walker
two circus girls
a female extra from the Alhambra
an old teacher, formerly student
a music copyist
three campesinos
a waiter several beggars



The total ensemble which is divided into smaller ensembles behind and on the stage, varying from scene to scene, does not appear as tutti.


2 Flautianche Ottavini
2 Oboi
2 Clarinetti2° anche Clarinetto piccolo e Clarinetto basso
1 Sassofono contralto
1 Sassofono tenore
1 Cornetto
2 Clarinetti piccoli
2 Trombe
1 Trombone
2 Tube tenoreo 2 Oficleide
2 Bombardonio Tube basse
1 Flauto di bambù
1 Ocarina
Armoniche a bocca
3 Scacciapensieri
Banjo tenore(quadrilatero)
Marimbulao Xilofono in cassetta
Trinidad steel drumo Vibrafono
Grancassa e piatto
Percussione3 Voodoo-drums (padre/madre/bambino)
3 Tamburi di legno con pelle
Tamburo di frizione
Frusta (di metallo)
Pedal maracas
Caccavella ruggito
Fasce di bambú
effetti metallici (5 diverse incudini o lastre sospese di acciaio)
[per 4]
Pianoforte preparato
Pianoforte(vecchio e scordato)
Organo ad lib.
3 Violini
1 Violoncello
1 Contrabbasso


Side instruments for the 6 beggar musicians

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