Really, the pairing of mariachi and opera music was a natural in many ways, says baritone Efrain Solis, who will sing the role of Mark when Houston Grand Opera returns Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) to Houston this week.
Both work without microphones and its performers sing with a lot of expression, he says. "I grew up with mariachi music all around me. I always through it was amazing to join the two genres."
But the most important thing about the world's first mariachi opera which was commissioned by HGO and premiered in 2010, is the story it tells, the story of immigrants in what they have left behind and what they have embraced in their new lives, he says.
It is a story that straddles the Texas-Mexico border that has now been performed throughout the country and in Paris and most recently with the New York Opera. It is one that Solis said he can relate to in his personal family history.
"It kind of mirrors in a lot of ways the things my family had to deal with coming to the U.S. I think about my mom and she has three sisters and she and one of her sisters were in the U.S. and her mom and the other sisters were back in Mexico for a while. And my dad had ten brothers and one sister and his mom and a bunch of his siblings were back in Mexico when he was out here working with my grandfather," Solis explained. "It really sheds a light on the fact that these are all people trying to find something better for themselves and for their lives and for their families and that's something we can all relate to."
A father's impending death is the impetus for what follows in this work with libretto by Leonard Foglia and composed by Jose "Pepe" Martinez. That father left secrets behind when he moved to America and now as they are revealed, his son must reassess his own place in the world and his relationship to his family.
Octavio Moreno will be back as the dying father Laurentino, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte as his first wife Renata and mariachi singer Vanessa Alonzo as Lupita. Los Angeles-based Mariachi Los Camperos will provide the music.
"One of the other singers that did the performances in Paris she told me they were a little worried about how it was going to be received in Paris because Mexico and our culture is so far from them," Solis said. "And then they performed and it was so well received and she said a woman talked to her afterwards who was from some Slavic country. She came up to her with tears in her eyes and she said 'You told my story tonight. I’ve not been able to go back home since I was a little girl.'"
"We want to tell stories that people can connect to even if they don't understand the language or the genre. It's really about story telling."
Solis, a graduate of the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellowship who grew up in Orange County in California, first sang the Mark role in the January New York production, said a lot of people ask him how difficult it is to go back and forth between Spanish and English in the opera.
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"I don’t think much about it at all. My dad speaks some English pretty well and my mom went to high school in the U.S. so her English is pretty good so we're home and we speak our Spanglish in a way and so we’re switching from Spanish to English mid-sentence most of the time and it doesn't faze me at all. I grew up truly bilingual."
"It's a story that a lot of people in the U.S. can relate to because a majority of us are immigrants or the children of immigrants.
"It’s a piece about love and it’s about family and it really touches a lot on the idea of home and where does one really belong. We make our own home at the end of the day. The people around us are what create home.
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 17 and 19 and 2 p.m. May 20 at Resilience Theater, George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas. Sung in English and Spanish with projected text and translation. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15-$160.