Sun, 05 Jul 2020

by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Each Sunday, Cuban tenor Andres Sanchez goes out onto his balcony on the ninth floor of an apartment building in Havana's Vedado district and belts out a song.

"I want to show that isolating doesn't necessarily have to be lonely," the young singer, 26, told Xinhua, referring to the official stay-at-home recommendations in place to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Armed with a bottle of water, microphone, laptop and speakers, Sanchez sings Cuban and international favorites to the delight of his neighbors, who clap, cheer and yell "Bravo!" from their windows or balconies above the strangely empty streets.

Sanchez usually sings in a theater or concert hall, but since the lockdown has put all cultural events on hold, the balcony has become his stage.

"This has been very challenging. I have to manage my voice in a different way, singing for people who live downstairs, upstairs and 100 meters away. It is totally new to me," he said.

Awarded an international scholarship to Italy, he has performed iconic roles in local productions of the musical Phantom of the Opera, as well as the operas La Traviatta and Rigoletto.

To spread his message of community solidarity beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood, his girlfriend Jeniffer Villanueva videotapes the performances and posts them online so that others sheltering in place can also enjoy them.

More than half of the country's 11 million inhabitants have internet access, according to Cuba's state-run telecommunications company ETECSA.

"Technology provides us with the chance to send music far beyond our neighbors' windows," said Villanueva, adding "music is always very good company."

Sanchez dedicates his concerts to the healthcare workers who selflessly attend to the outbreak's many victims, such as Dania Sanabria, 56, a Cuban general practitioner at the Martires del Corynthia Polyclinic, located just 50 meters from his building.

"These concerts, and the national applause for doctors and nurses, encourage us to continue to work hard as the epidemic on the island appears to be coming to an end," Sanabria said.

Sanchez's concerts have also given hundreds of Cubans who don't usually attend operas or musicals the opportunity to hear a different genre of music than they are used to.

"To be frank, I have never gone to an opera house. I thought it had nothing to do with me. But thanks to this balcony concert, I've come to realize that opera is really charming," resident Pedro Cruz, 50, said.

Although Cubans expect to gather again at theaters, concerts and other cultural venues once the lockdown is lifted, Sanchez believes "the spirit of (solidarity) of balcony concerts is here to stay."

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