The Intensity of Mariachi Music Returns to HGO With El Milagro de Recuerdo

Cecilia Duarte
Cecilia Duarte Photo by Michael Bishop

The intensity of mariachi music is perfect for opera. That observation by mezzo-soprano Cecila Duarte has been borne out repeatedly in recent years with the two mariachi operas commissioned by Houston Grand Opera that have been embraced outside Texas and around the world.

Durate who originated the role of Renata in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) — the first mariachi opera which debuted in 2010 — welcomed the chance to play Renata in its prequel El Milagro del Recuerdo (The Miracle of Remembering) which first premiered in 2019. 

"It's a role I'm quite familiar with," she said. "I think the fact that we have operas now where Latinx experiences and lives are showcased on stage, specifically in the opera world, is important. So being one of the performers who get to tell these stories for the first time has a great meaning for me."

 In El Milagro, the story goes back in time and place to when the family was living in Michoacán, Mexico. Renata welcomes her husband Laurentino home for Christmas — he's been working in the United States — but worries his north of the border experience is changing him. The customs and traditions of a festive holiday celebration are on display as is the joy of a family coming together.

"I think it's a window to the Mexican world for Christmas Eve and all the traditions that go with it. It's a beautiful production full of colors, a wonderful set, beautiful costumes. It's a beautiful production in the sounds that come out of it but also the visuals."

The opera is a one-act coming in at a little over an hour, making it very accessible for adults who don't normally attend opera and for children. "We won't hold people hostage," she said, laughing.

More seriously, she said: "Houston has a very big Latinx population. For kids and young people to see themselves represented on stage, I think that also sends a big message to the community."

Other cast members include Federico De Michelis as Laurentino, Vanessa Becerra as La Mujer, Vanessa Alonzo as Lupita, Rafael Moras as Father Matías, Miguel De Aranda as Chucho, Héctor Vásquez as Aba and Claudia Chapa as Josefina. Librettist Leonard Foglia directs, and Benjamin Manis conducts. Vincent Pequeño, William Carlton Galvez, and Israel Alcala of Trio Chapultepec will be joined by the HGO Orchestra.

Cruzar traveled to Paris where it was greeted with a six-minute standing ovation by the audience. Additionally, when a recent survey was done of the HGO productions that were most successful at attracting new audience members, the mariachi operas were in the top 10,  HGO data showed,

"The success of these stories is because we touch universal subjects like family and unity and home," Duarte said. "These stories set in Mexico are told by Mexican characters. But we have seen how everybody can relate to this message."

Performances are scheduled for December 8-18 at 7 p.m. Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays and Tuesday December 13; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For more information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongradopera.org. $30-$107.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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