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INTERVIEW: Ashley Galvani Bell Introduces "Rival Queens," An Original Biopic Opera

T.J. Clemente

Ashley Galvani Bell. (Photo: Carlos Keyes/Courtesy of Divaria Productions)

In a freewheeling discussion, Ashley Galvani Bell - a noted soprano - spoke about the virtual world premiere of Divaria Productions' original biopic opera, Rival Queens, to be presented via Bay Street Theater online starting Thursday, November 12.

Galvani Bell explained the program she put together and is producing "is the story of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, and features music from Donizetti's opera Maria Stuarda with English subtitles." She noted that the program was "originally scheduled to be performed in-person at Bay Street Theater, however COVID changed all that."

She spent the summer creating the virtual presentation and prepared on an intercontinental basis. That featured a director, pianist, and actors located in Spain; a writer, soprano, mezzo-soprano and film crew in New York; a narrator from San Francisco; and a tenor in Chicago. She loved the process! They actually filmed scenes in the Church of the Heavenly Rest in NYC, as well as scenes in Spain done and supervised by Galvani Bell's longtime collaborator and director of this project, Anton Armendariz Diaz.

Galvani Bell is in fact the producer, the writer and stars as Mary Queen of Scots. She is certainly a trailblazer in this new field of opera. "I definitely was inspired by where I went to school, I went to an all-girls school [Sacred Heart] in the city for 13 years. The way we were taught, even though it was a Catholic School, we were independent and we were taught to never feel like there are limitations and to try to be the best that you can be," she noted. "And I think having that background and incredibly encouraging teachers, like Sister Salisbury, was what really inspired me, basically saying there aren't things a woman couldn't do." She also graduated from Yale University.

About the program, which will be a drama, documentary operettic movie, Galvani Bell told us, "Through the pandemic Anton and I were working on a lot of Bay Street classes, so that inspired me in wanting this production to be more historical. Originally, we were going to do this live and a totally different format. It was going to be blending a play about Mary Stuart with the Maria Stuarda opera, but due to COVID we decided to narrow it down to just the two women [Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart - Mary Queen of Scots] and their stories. Therefore, I started doing some research."

Galvani Bell realized through research the two queens never met, so she created a confrontation scene that is reportedly amazing by those who have already seen it. Yet, Galvani Bell said, "However amazing that scene is, my favorite scene to act and sing is the scene right before Mary Stuart gets her head cut off. I just think the music is so beautiful and the way Donizetti portrays it, it just evokes all the emotions. I find the song very moving. I can't say enough about my longtime friend, Anton Armendariz Diaz. He filmed, he directed, he inspired all masterfully. I thank him always for sharing his talent with our projects."

Rival Queens adds the dimension of the relationship of these two queens throughout their entire life and not just the months immediately preceding Mary's execution. This biopic represents a new form of art that melds documentary film with the music of opera, which serves as the driving force of the story. The one-hour production draws on primary sources of the letters between these women - who never actually met in person - and historical research, culminating in original narration that connects the opera and the letters.

Rival Queens will make its debut on Thursday, November 12 at 8:00 p.m.

For more information, visit www.baystreet.org.




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