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Cecilia Duarte as Renata with her young son, Rafael played by Rodrigo de Leon Bran
16 Oct 2014

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Cecilia Duarte as Renata with her young son, Rafael played by Rodrigo de Leon Bran


Prior to the arrival of the conquistadors, Mexican music was played on rattles, drums, flutes, and conch-shell horns. When the Spanish arrived they brought violins, guitars and harps, brass, horns, and woodwinds. Indian and mestizo musicians not only learned to play them, they also built their own instruments based on Spanish ideas, sometimes giving them new shapes and tunings. Today’s Mariachi groups include both traditional and folk instruments. An ensemble might include six to eight violins, two trumpets, and a guitar as well as folk instruments including a round-backed guitar called a vihuela, a deep-voiced guitarrón, and a Mexican folk harp. On October 10, 2014 in Symphony Hall, the Mariachi band stood in a semicircle around the back of the stage.

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego. This is a different kind of opera in that it combines musical theater with traditional Mexican song.

The story told of three generations of a family who lived on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. It was a familiar situation to many of the Arizonans who attended this performance. The librettists liked these cross-cultural families to the monarch butterflies which migrate from the States or Southern Canada to Mexico. As the opera opens, Laurentino, an elderly Mexican man, lies dying while his American son, Mark, sings a folksong. Lyric baritone Brian Shircliffe sang Mark with golden tones and excellent diction while demonstrating his virtuosity on the guitar. Octavio Moreno gave a fine character portrayal of Laurentino.

Cecilia Duarte and Vanessa Cerda-Alonzo were Renata and Lupita, the delightfully vivacious wives of Laurentino and his companion, Chucho. When the men went off to work in the States, Renata, Lupita, and the other townswomen were alone with their children and there were almost no men in town at all. Renata wanted to see her husband more often and she was willing to cross the border to do it. While she sang of her desire to have her next child born in the States, Lupita was happy in Mexico with the money her husband sent.

Unfortunately when Renata and her small son, Rafael, tried to cross the border, she became weak. She died in the desert. Victor, the smuggler took the boy back to Mexico where he grew up. Laurentino’s son, Mark, was born in the States, so the siblings did not know each other. The finale involves their being brought together by American granddaughter, Diana, sung by Brittany Wheeler. She got the two men to accept each other as brothers.

Although the show wass billed as an opera, the sound of the singers and instrumentalists was carefully amplified. The three women were all mezzo-sopranos but each had a distinctive timbre. Duarte’s lyric voice floated easily on the air while Cerda-Alonzo’s stentorian tones were reminiscent of Flamenco singers. Wheeler’s sound was warm and colorful. In the supporting roles of Rafael, Chucho, and Victor; David Guzman, Saúl Ávalos, and Juan Mejia added considerably to the worth of this performance.

The music was absolutely enchanting and it brought a great many new faces to the Arizona Opera audience. The applause at the evening’s end was deafening. This was the first Mariachi opera to be shown in AZ, but another is already being written. I, for one, won’t miss it.

Maria Nockin

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