fotos Juan de Dios Mariño
Hardly anyone imagines that behind Eugenio Hernández Castañeda, a sturdy and affable young man who sometimes pedals on a biketaxi through the streets of Caimito, there is a talent of lyrical art in Cuba. Nor do they imagine that his brother Sam, sometimes at the “helm” of the same biketaxi, is an excellent creator of special effects for Cuban Television, within which he made very remarkable contributions for a serial that made time for its out-of-the-ordinary quality: Duaba, the odyssey of honor.
With this bicycletaxi and an effort that leads them never to give up, Eugenio, above all, has been able to face the monetary demands that led him to travel, daily, from his home located in this municipality of Artemiseño to where he has been studying for three years: the Teatro Lírico Nacional, in Old Havana.
Now, convinced of what dreams he would like to make come true, he remembers in particular two moments in his life: when at the age of fifteen he premiered as a vocalist in the evangelical Church of the Bando de Gideon, of which he is a member together with his mother Elia Luisa, and when lyrical art ignited forcefully within himself to help him leave behind definitely the conflicted teenager with which his mother must have fought impetuously, and alone, to get him through.
The first thing Eugenio performed in public was the song Alaba a Dios, popularized by Puerto Rican-origin American vocalist Danny Berrios. Then I didn’t imagine what his future would be. But he was greatly seduced by the powerful way in which some brethren of his Church sang.
At that time, he listened a lot to the songs of a Dominican Christian tenor, Junior Kelly Marchena, and was left in spell with his interpretations of songs such as How Great You Are and The Final Cry, also vocalized by beginner Eugene. Interestingly, both have very similar voice records: Junior is light lyrical tenor and Eugene is lyrical tenor spinto or push tenor, which needs to resort to more pressure on the diaphragm to emit the sharp notes.
Willing to check if he really had a talent for singing, he went to San Antonio de los Baños to knock on the door of the renowned tenor Rodolfo Chacón, a man who had toured national and international stages intepreting the best zarzuelas of the courtyard and works of planetary resonance, and who likes to make the most of the fledgling talent of his students, grouped in the Dulce Chimera project.
“With Professor Chacón I learned to project the voice, not to sing with the sound enclosed within me,” Eugenio says. Under his direction I performed songs by the Spanish zarzuela La tabernera del puerto, and ‘Nessun dorma’, final aria of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot”.
Already captivated by lyrical art, Eugenio decided to present himself in the National Contest La Nueva Voz, held at the Teatro América, where he again performed ‘Nessun dorma’ and the theme Rebelde, by the Cuban Ovejeiro Carvajal. Greater joy received upon hearing that the jury of the contest gave him the First Place of the contest and that the distinguished teacher Marta Cardona had decided to recommend it to the assessment of the teacher and musician Roberto Chorens (now deceased), director of the Teatro Lírico Nacional and a true authority in the matter.
A successful audition with Professor Katia Selva and the approval of Professor Chorens, who did not hesitate once to listen to Eugene, would open space for him on the grounds of the Lyric Theatre and the entrance to an extraordinary musical universe, where names that Rodolfo Chacón had made him very familiar… and the works of other geniuses from beyond island borders.
Eugene has his head full of dreams: he wants to one day be the tenor of Madame Buterfly, to play some character in the opera Tosca and in countless creations that have turned the planet around. He admires tenors such as the Spaniard José Carreras, the Italian Giuseppe Giacomini and the German Jonas Kaufman, and especially the Spanish-Cuban soprano María Remolá, for her ability to achieve the highest vocal records.
Talking about the presence of music in the Bible, Eugenio Hernandez stops moved by the poetic beauty of the Psalms, composed by King David, who played the harp and composed praises for God, to whom Eugene claims to owe him all his talent, and discusses several of the great musicians who composed works of clear religious resonance, especially about Franz Schubert and his Hail Mary , a masterpiece from which he gives me, a cappella, a small fragment in the improvised “stage” that turns out to be the living room of my house.
“Mozart composed music to be performed during Masses of the Catholic Church, including the theme Lord, have mercy on me and several Hail Mary,” Eugenio says. They’re very beautiful. However, Schubert’s piece does not support comparison. When you listen to it, feel like you’re levitating, and when it comes to interpreting it, then you face an extraordinary challenge, because it’s a master class to learn the technique on how to control the voice.
He dreams a lot. But this boy dreams well, that one day, when the road seemed to get as close as possible in his difficult adolescence, he discovered an art full of delicacies and challenges, an art that would give a very special meaning to his life. Maybe all the sense.
Shortly before concluding this interview, I received, curiously, from a friend, the writer Alberto Guerra Naranjo, one of his last stories: Picassos in the air, a tale marked by the anguish of an emigrant who, in a Country of the First World, paints the outside of a very high building and suddenly most of the ropes that support it are broke and then the salvation of his life is at the expense of a miracle.
The trade has a name with almost tourist resonances: industrial mountaineering. Only for Sam, who has exercised it (and practices) in various buildings in Havana, there is nothing touristy about it. In this trade, as in the story of Guerra Naranjo, some “mountaineers” can also fall into the void.
“In industrial mountaineering a mistake can cost you your life,” says Sam, the biketaxista, the special effects for Cuban Television; but it’s a way to financially support my brother Eugene’s studies, who will be a great lyrical singer. I don’t doubt it. It’s been a long and difficult task. But neither he nor I will give up on this effort to reach the goal.” Ω
Photo 2: Sam in the middle of work as an industrial mountaineer.