Il Signatore: A Synopsis

An opera in four acts. Music by Giuseppe Verdi with libretto in Italian by Giacomo DeFede, based on depositions taken by Miami-Dade County officials.

While operas based on contract disputes are relatively rare, Il Signatore, or The Signature, seeks to bring the excitement of bureaucratic governmental wrangling to a larger audience. On its surface, it is a straightforward story about a relatively minor conflict encountered during the race to build a new performing arts center in Miami, Florida. In truth, however, Il Signatore, like all good operas, is a tale of betrayal and vengeance, whose characters are surrounded by allegations of deceit and treachery. Though still in preproduction, this piece could easily be completed to coincide with the opening of the performing arts center in 2002 and would make a striking debut.

The curtain rises on Miami in the summer of 1996 and the action concentrates on two friends, Alfredo Brizuela and Alberto Ribas, business partners in the engineering consulting firm Brizuela & Ribas. Business is good; the men are happy. They sing joyously about their futures and the lucrative contracts piled high on their desks. While toasting their good fortune, they give thanks to a company known as Church & Tower, which has blessed them with subcontracting work on numerous projects. One particular project causes Ribas to deliver the opera's first aria, "Dieci, O, Dieci," in which he celebrates his firm's inclusion in a deal to build a magnificent new performing arts center in downtown Miami. Brizuela & Ribas will be part of Church & Tower's construction-management team, overseeing the building of the great concert halls; as the title of this aria suggests, Ribas believes he will receive ten percent of the management contract, or about $340,000.

The aria concludes with Ribas triumphantly signing what is known as a letter of intent stating not only that he is to receive ten percent of the work but also that his firm is minority-owned. After signing the form, Ribas is once again joined by Brizuela. The two men celebrate by taking their families on vacation to Cancœn, Mexico.

In this short scene, we are introduced to Jean Lesly Duret, an employee of Brizuela & Ribas. With his bosses away in Mexico, Duret believes himself to be in charge. He is flush with power. Although Duret works for Brizuela & Ribas, he has a separate office at Church & Tower; the audience quickly grows to doubt his loyalty. As the first act comes to a close, we see Duret furtively rummaging through paperwork for the performing arts center proposal.

A year has passed; it is now the summer of 1997. For reasons that are never made clear, Brizuela and Ribas are no longer friends and their business partnership comes to a dramatic end. Ribas assumes responsibility for those contracts still outstanding and renames the firm A2. But more misfortune is set to befall Ribas. Officials at Church & Tower abruptly fire him from several jobs, contending his work is unsatisfactory. Panicked, Ribas rushes to county hall to examine the paperwork in the performing arts center contract. He fears he will be cut out of that deal as well and seeks reassurances that he cannot be summarily dismissed. Frantically he pores over the documents and discovers the letter of intent he signed. But wait! It is not his signature. And instead of ten percent participation, he is slated to receive just five percent of the contract. He tries without success to resolve the matter with officials from Church & Tower, who angrily dismiss his claims. Furious, Ribas swears vengeance against the company in the bitter "La Maledizione" ("The Curse"). With nowhere to turn, he notifies county officials the signature is a forgery.

Upon receiving Ribas's complaint, the county manager orders a team of inquisitors to question under oath everyone involved. The inquisitors are John McInnis, an assistant county attorney; Yanette Bravo, a specialist in the county's Department of Business Development; and Miriam Singer, the assistant director for that same department. The inquisitors have the forged letter of intent, which is dated August 9, 1996. They also have another letter of intent, this one dated August 1, 1996, signed by Ribas and filled out for ten percent participation. Ribas turns this document over to the inquisitors in November 1997 and claims it is a copy of the form he originally sent to Church & Tower before leaving for vacation in Cancun.

The first person formally queried is Juan Carlos Mas, vice president of Church & Tower. Mas professes complete ignorance. He says he has no idea if the signature on the August 9 letter of intent is a forgery. As a matter of convenience, he recalls, Duret was given a copy of the form in August 1996 to pass along to his bosses. A short time later Duret returned it, Mas says, with what appeared to be Ribas's signature. Mas denies that he ever agreed to give Ribas ten percent of the deal and argues that Ribas wasn't even involved in the negotiations, that everything was done with Brizuela. "None of these issues were brought up until Brizuela & Ribas split up," the tenor Mas bellows, suggesting in addition that Ribas may be unstable. "He actually came and threatened to go to the newspaper if I didn't give him more percentages," Mas protests. He concludes his testimony by reiterating his disdain for Ribas: "If I am required to use A2, I will do it, but it is not the individuals who we are supposed to work with on this project. And with this animosity, I am not sure how good of a working relationship we will have."

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede