An elderly Mexican American man who lives in Houston is dying and decides there are some things he must do. For the first time he tells his grown son and granddaughter that when he came to the United States as a migrant worker in the bracero program years before, he abandoned his family in Mexico.
"He wants to see them again before he dies," Anthony Freud, Houston Grand Opera's general director and CEO, said at a press conference Tuesday. He was describing To Cross the Face of the Moon/Cruzar la Cara de la Luna -- "the first-ever mariachi opera" -- a work he initiated (commissioned by HGO) that will take center stage at the Wortham Theater on November 13. Following its one night at the Wortham, it will move for three days to Talento Bilingue de Houston.
The mariachi opera will be performed in Spanish and English with surtitles.
"The piece is an exploration about what is home. It's an exploration of a family divided across countries, across cultures, across generations," said Freud.
Freud had gone to a performance by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and loved it. "I sat there thinking this is so operatic. Why has there never been a mariachi opera?" He did some research and found out he was right, there had never been such an animal. He thought they should give it a try.
"I thought, let's see whether the two can meet, whether the two can learn from each other, whether infusing the two we can create something new, groundbreaking and exciting that will hopefully take opera in new directions, take mariachi in new directions," Freud said.
Freud said he approached Jose "Pepe" Martinez, the music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, and after about a year and a half of negotiation, Martinez agreed to write the music. Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan will perform at the one-night-only Wortham staging, and a mariachi group from the University of Texas -- Pan American (who just performed at the White House) -- will take over at Talento Bilingue.
Mariachi singer Vanessa Cerda Alonzo, who plays the role of Lupita, never imagined she'd be in an opera, she said. Well known in local circles for her mariachi singing (she's been doing it for about 15 years), she thinks opera and mariachi music are well suited for each other.
"Mariachi music is a lot of acting and interacting with the audience. The difference is that you're actually on a stage now," she said. "A lot of marichi music speaks of love and tragedy and stories."
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She also said she's glad that original mariachi music was composed for the production and that it will be performed by mariachi groups rather than an orchestra.
"I really hope a lot of people come and see it. It's different from anything else that anyone's ever heard," she said.
Or as Freud put it: "HGO is passionate about building relationships to communities around our city for whom opera and opera companies have frankly been irrelevant up till now."
Tickets for the world premiere of To Cross the Face of the Moon/Cruzar la Cara de la Luna at the Wortham Theater Center's Brown Theater, can be purchased online www.houstongrandopera.org or call 713-228-6737.