“How are we going to make a movie with the Atlantic Ocean in the middle?”
That was the question on Spain-based director Antón Armendariz Diaz’s mind when he was faced with a rather unique challenge back in May. Diaz was originally set to travel to the United States to direct the world premiere of Divaria Productions’ Rival Queens, a new opera about Mary Queen of Scots and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Rival Queens was to combine the music of the seminal Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda with the actual letters exchanged between the two women and dig deeper into both their lives. But thanks to COVID-19, the production would have to be put on hold—so Diaz and Divaria Productions’ Ashley Bell got creative and decided to film the show.
Diaz and Bell got to work on adapting the production, which was originally supposed to have nine actors. “It was impossible to shoot nine actors, so we had to rewrite everything and I, as the director, had to make a plan and thought, how do I change this from a play into a movie?” Diaz recalls. “It was so challenging. I’m also in Spain, I had a six-hour difference. From time to time they’d be calling me and I’d just give some advice through my cell phone!”
Immediately, Bell and Diaz encountered challenges—including actors being scattered throughout the States. “The first problem—the tenor is in Chicago!” Diaz says. “The tenor recorded his pieces in New York, then we sent them to the soprano. In New York, they recorded her voice and the narrator, and they shot the video.”
Scenes were shot professionally at the Heavenly Rest Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and an editor in Spain put the finishing touches on the ambitious production. There were also a few scenes filmed in Spain for establishing and transitional shots, and certain exteriors, like the Tower of London, were constructed in 3D. It’s a far cry from the typical Zoom reading of plays we’ve become accustomed to.
The hour-long production will be screened virtually via Bay Street Theater on November 12 and via Rites of Spring Music Festival on November 14. “Audiences will enjoy and like the show,” Diaz adds. “The experience was amazing!”