A lighthearted romp overtook the Moores Opera Center this weekend with its production of Daniel Catan's Salsipuedes: A Tale of Love, War, and Anchovies. Catan was a celebrated composer who died quite suddenly last year. His name may sound familiar to opera-goers in Houston; this production is the third of his that the Moores Opera Center has produced. When the Moores produced his Florencia, in 2009, Catan watched along with the rest of the audience.
Despite its frothy Latin flavor, the plot, which is described as a "dark comedy," is not an easy one to follow. Two sisters marry the members of a popular singing group called the Dolphins on the fictitious Caribbean island of Salsipuedes. The time period is the 1940s, during the Second World War. On the day of their wedding, the Dolphins are asked to perform the national anthem by the island's president, General Garcia. But as is the world of opera, nothing can go as planned, and the Dolphins are taken aboard a military ship that is about to set sail. General Garcia has just declared war on the Nazis, and the Dolphins are caught in the mix.
The story gets even weirder from there. As it turns out, the General, who we come to understand is a cold dictator ruling this party island with an iron fist, is actually in cahoots with the Nazis. His real plan is to sell anchovies to the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Apparently, anchovies have some sort of aphrodisiac-like qualities, or it is assumed that they do.
As convoluted as the opera may seem, at its core is a love story. Two newlyweds are trying to reunite amidst a crazy time in the world, and despite the many obstacles being thrown in their way, love will always prevail.
Composer Catan has certainly captured the rhythm and feel of Latin music; the opening wedding scene is an abundance of salsa-driven beats and hip-shaking movements. The actors seemed to be having as much fun as the audience. This style was consistent throughout most of the composition. There are no violins or violas present in the orchestra, and this lack of string is purposeful, giving way to a stronger brass and woodwind section.
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The actors have their work cut out for them. The libretto is in Spanish and the singers did their darndest to overcome their American accents. The main couple, portrayed by Nicholas DeMeo, Leah Bobby, Trevor Martin and Nicole Woodward (during Friday night's performance), were fantastic, tackling both the complex vocalities of the opera as well as capturing the excitement and despair of being a newly married couple ripped apart much too quickly.
If there was any drawback to this performance, it was that the orchestra overpowered the actors. At times it was a struggle to even hear them, but I am not sure how you would remedy this or if this is commonplace for the space.
The sound issues aside, if you are looking for a fun time at the opera, there is one more performance left tonight.
Salsipuedes: A Tale of Love, War, and Anchovies finishes its run tonight, Monday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit music.uh.edu/opera.