Afro-Cuban Puppet Opera: “Manita en el suelo”

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Afro-Cuban Puppet Opera: “Manita en el suelo,” originally written by globally renowned Cuban author Alejo Carpentier and composed by Alejandro García Caturla, will play at the Target Margin Theater (located at 232 52nd Street, in Brooklyn, New York) on July 29, 2022, at 7:00pm (ET). The Americas Society writes:

Join us for the U.S. premiere of the 1934 puppet opera, with libretto by Alejo Carpentier and music by Alejandro García Caturla, directed by Doug Fitch. On July 29, we will host this concert in-person, and tickets are free. To reserve your seat, please email All guests will be required to provide proof of vaccination and wear masks.

Manita en el suelo is a “mitología bufa afro-cubana” for narrator, marionettes, chorus, and orchestra in one act and five scenes (1934) with music by Alejandro García Caturla (1906–1940) and text by Alejo Carpentier (1904–1980). Manita en el suelo is a playful parody for puppets and one living character, the legendary Papá Montero, who narrates the action while the puppets reenact it. This production will be the piece’s U.S. premiere as well as its world premiere with puppets, as the authors intended.

Synopsis: Three fishermen, Juan Indio, Juan Esclavo, and Juan Odio—who represent Cuba’s three main ethnicities in colonial times—are caught in a storm. Suddenly, the Virgin appears and calms the seas, protecting the three men sailing on the same canoe (which represents Cuba itself). Famished after their ordeal, the fishermen eat Manita’s sacred rooster, Motoriongo (the titular character is based on a historical figure, a Santería practitioner who lived in Havana in the late nineteenth century). Manita resorts to a baile de santo to summon reveal the identity of the fishermen who killed and ate his sacred rooster. Enraged, the ñáñigo (Manita is a member of a secret religious society) punches the moon down from the sky, creating darkness in the world. Destroying the poets’ muse, however, is a crime for which Manita faces imprisonment and death at the hands of the Captain General of Spain and his guards. Suddenly, as a traditional deus ex machina, Chino de la Charada appears to contrive a merry ending.

The original concept was developed by Caturla and Carpentier as a fusion of traditions, infusing modernist musical language with Cuban popular music. The composer was fascinated by Afro-Cuban folklore, which influenced his compositional style. Caturla was assassinated in 1940, leaving behind a piano score of the whole piece and two fully orchestrated numbers.

Americas Society Music Director Sebastian Zubieta followed the composer’s indications to create a chamber orchestra version of the score, Doug Fitch created the puppets and directs, and musicologist and Caturla specialist Malena Kuss lends her expertise to the production. 


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