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TPR Premieres Chamber Opera About Air Force Hero

Lee Farar Bailey as Fernando Luis Ribas-Dominicci, and Kathleen Shelton as Blanca Ribas.
Texas Public Radio
Lee Farar Bailey as Fernando Luis Ribas-Dominicci, and Kathleen Shelton as Blanca Ribas.

On Classical Connections, TPR's Barry Brake speaks to Nathan Felix, a San Antonio composer who creates operatic works performed in non-traditional spaces such as museums, galleries, on a bus, or in this case, at the Texas Public Radio studios. "Ribas-Dominicci" is based on the true story of Air Force hero Fernando Luis Ribas-Dominicci, whose fighter was shot down near Libya in April, 1986, during Operation El Dorado Canyon. The mission was a response to acts of terrorism sponsored by Libya.

To hear the full segment, including music, listen using the audio player above. A transcript of the conversation is below.

Barry Brake: Brand new classical music on KPAC from a chamber opera by San Antonio composer Nathan Felix is called “Ribas-Dominicci” and it's based on a true story. It's all happening this Friday at two o'clock streaming through Texas Public Radio. And here to talk about it is the composer, Nathan Felix. I'm so glad that you're here. Great to talk to you.

Nathan Felix: Hey, thanks for having me, Barry. I'm excited to be here, too.

Barry: Oh, man. OK, so tell me all about how this thing happened.

Nathan: Well, the idea for the piece, "Ribas-Dominicci," sort of started a couple of years ago. A friend of mine that I grew up with, he told me the story about his father, who was Fernando Luis Ribas-Dominicci. And it really touched me and moved me. And I asked his family if I could write a script for it. So it wasn't even, the impetus wasn't to write an opera initially, it was sort of like a film script. But as the years went on, it sort of fell apart. And TPR, Adam [Fleming] approached me and said, "Hey, we're doing this Daystream series. Would you like to do something for it?" So I remembered speaking with my friend about doing this script and I said, "Why don't we do a short opera instead?"

Barry: Oh, my gosh.

Nathan: And the beautiful thing about it was that his mom, Blanca Ribas, who is actually a character in the chamber opera, she's a huge fan of opera. And I felt that it just sort of lined up perfectly.

Barry: Oh, that's great. So here it is. It's a true story of an Air Force major that was shot down off the coast of Libya in 1986. What struck you about the story?

Nathan: Well, I think it was really close to home for me, being that it was my best friend's father. I myself did not grow up with a father. So we had that connection of what it's like to grow up without a male figure in our home. And then the other part of it was for Blanca, who I also grew up [with] as a kid, going over having dinner at their house, knowing that she lived her life even when her husband was alive, having to sacrifice, knowing he could go off on a mission at any time and not come back. And in this case, unfortunately, that's what happened,

Barry: Being married to an Air Force major...

Nathan: There's a lot of strength in that character, of living with somebody that's in the military.

Barry: And so this is part of the Daystream concert series from Texas Public Radio. And so it's what we call a chamber opera filmed here in town at the Malú and Carlos Alvarez Theater at Texas Public Radio. And it's going to be streaming on Facebook on TPR's Facebook page this Friday, 2:00 p.m. That's during this show. So you have my permission to tune away. So tell us a little bit about we heard the intro. Tell us a little bit about what we're about to hear.

Nathan: Well, in terms of the way the opera ends, it is sort of this fictitious moment of her letting go, so she knows at this point that her husband, Fernando, has been shot down, but she's holding on to this hope that he parachuted out, that he's somewhere in another country in hiding. And it was something I interviewed her about. And she held on to hope for years until they found his body, or they traded his body, Gadhafi traded it back to the U.S. And she said she had to relive a lot of those moments of what it was like hearing the news that he was shot down. And so this last scene is her sort of letting go and they have this fictitious moment where they embrace each other, sort of in a dreamlike world, saying goodbye.

Barry: Well, here it is, an excerpt from the chamber opera "Ribas Domenicci," by San Antonio composer Nathan Felix. Nathan, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nathan: Yeah, thank you, Barry. It's a pleasure. And I appreciate all the support.

Barry: Oh, man. I can't wait to see the whole thing on Friday at 2:00 p.m..

Nathan: Thank you. Thank you Barry.

Barry: much. OK, and here we go. "Ribas Dominicci" on KPAC.

Barry: Brand new music from the San Antonio composer Nathan Felix. Wasn't that just wonderful, from his opera “Ribas-Dominici” based on a true story. And it's part of Texas Public Radio's Daystream concert series. The debut is happening Friday. You just got a sneak preview of it. Brand new chamber opera by the composer Nathan Felix. And by the way, thanks to Nathan for dropping by and talking to us just a few minutes ago. Opera was filmed here at Texas Public Radio's Malú and Carlos Alvarez Theater. Once again, it's going to be streaming on TPR’s Facebook page this Friday at 2:00.

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Barry Brake is a composer, jazz and classical pianist who has been a part of San Antonio's music scene for decades. You can find his musings and musical exploits online here: http://barrybrake.com/