The party began with a waltz specially composed for the occasion and sang by her mother Hortensia, a coloratura soprano.
“That’s what I remember the most today, making my entrance with my father to dance the waltz and my mother on stage singing to me,” said Castroverde, her voice cracking with emotion. “I must have looked startled, seeing all those people looking at me, because my father whispered to me: ‘smile.’ ”
After a few rounds, her father ceded the honored quinceañera to her dance partner, Carlos Torres de Navarra. They were immediately joined by 14 young couples who performed a choreography by Gustavo Roig, son of the famed composer and founder of the Cuba National Opera, Gonzalo Roig. The youngsters had been rehearsing for more than two months at the Vedado Tennis Club party hall.
Among those at the party 56 years ago was Marta Sánchez-Arcilla, daughter of Cuban playwright and Ambassador José Sánchez-Arcilla. She was Castroverde’s schoolmate at Merici Academy, a school run by Ursuline nuns in Havana’s upscale Biltmore neighborhood.
“The party was very much in the Spanish tradition, very classy and delicate. At that time, there was none of that coming out with little crowns on the girl’s head while sitting on a throne, as they do today,” said Sánchez-Arcilla, who didn’t get to celebrate her own quince due to threats to her family.
At Castroverde’s party, the stroke of midnight marked the time to blow out the birthday candles. The guests surrounded the young girl and toasted for her new maturity.
Today, Castroverde recalls the photographer kept her busy. “I had to pose so much I didn’t even get to taste my cake.” Then, they brought out her special present: a $3,800 diamond bracelet bought at the Cuervo y Sobrinos jewelry store with contributions from all the guests. The dancing lasted until the early hours of the morning.
In the following days, the quinceañera crafted an album reflecting the memories of her party, including the clips of several newspapers which featured her quince in the society pages, as well as a letter she wrote about her experience. As Castro was taking power, her mother whisked the photo album and film footage to a safe place overseas.
“Years will go by,” Castroverde wrote in her album, “but the memorable night of my quince birthday will forever remain deep in my heart.”
Note to readers: Daniel Shoer Roth will appear at the MiamiHerald/elNuevoHerald’s Cuba Nostalgia exhibit on Sunday from 2 p.m. until the fair’s closure.