CRUZAR LA CARA DE LA LUNAMusic by Jose “Pepe” Martinez
Libretto by Jose “Pepe” Martinez and Leonard Foglia
Sung in Spanish and English
2017 Fort Worth Opera Festival
Fort Worth Opera
Stage Director – Leonard Foglia
Assistant Director/Choreograph – Keturah Stickann
Music Supervisor – David Hanlon
Music Director –Chia Patino
Scenic Designer – Leonard Foglia
Costume Designer –Cesar Galindo
Lighting Designer – Brian Nason
Lighting Director – Chad R. Jung
Wig and Makeup Designer – Robin Daffinee Coulonge
Stage Manager – Meg Edwards
Assistant Stage Manager – Miranda Williams
Projected Tiles – Colin Ure
Mark, Laurentino’s second son – Brian Shircliffe
Diana, Mark’s daughter – Brittany Wheeler
Laurentino, the grandfather – Octavio Moreno
Chucho, Laurentino’s friend – Saul Avalos
Lupita, Renata’s friend – Vanessa Alonzo
Renata, his wife – Cecilia Duarte
Rafael, Laurentino’s first son – Daniel Montenegro
Victor, a coyote | guide – Juan Mejia
MARIACHI VARGAS DE TECALITLAN
Reviewed Performance: 4/29/2017
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Octavio Moreno magnificently sang the lead role of Laurentino. Moreno made the opera a success as much as the mariachi players lining the stage in a half circle. This unusual opera contains 16 scenes that go back and forth in time beginning with the present in Fort Worth, Texas. At that time the elderly Laurentino was on his deathbed and his son Mark, (Brian Shircliffe) who’s in his 40s, plays the guitar and gently sings En Frangiles Alas (On Fragile Wings). The touching folk song is about the movement of the butterflies which is a theme of this opera as it depicts Mexican people’s lives as they move back and forth from the south to the north. More specifically, it portrays how the men leave Mexico and travel to the U.S. to work and leave their families behind.
Laurentino left a wife Renata (Cecilia Duarte) and a son (Daniel Montenegro) back in Mexico and came to Texas to work. Duarte has a strong alto voice that is a folksy sound much more so than operatic.
One would think that Laurentino was the main character of this opera, and he certainly was the most important singing role. However, in essence the biggest character was the band that joined the singers. From the moment they appeared after the dramatic dropping of a silky cloth that shimmered to the ground, we pretty much so knew who’d play the main part of this opera. The famous Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan band was musically precise and exciting. This band’s been around for about 140 years and is well known in Mexico. It was unusual to see the musical instruments right on stage with the singers in such a big way. In opera the orchestra is normally in the pit out of sight. However, we couldn’t miss these mariachi players who wore crisp charcoal-colored traditional suits with delicate white trimmings and large white sombreros. Their polished instruments gleamed and sparkled. The audience absolutely roared when the curtain shimmered to the floor revealing them as their music thundered out.
For the most part the balance between the singers and the music was correct but not always. Different than in most every large opera I’ve ever attended, all the singers were miked. Even so, there were times when the instrumental music still overpowered the singers. Since the band was a major character it’s not surprising that their music would figuratively step to the center of the stage. However, I’m not fond of it upstaging the singers in front of them. In opera and well composed/performed music the limelight is perfunctorily given to usually one element at a time. That is, when it’s the singer’s turn to shine the orchestra’s volume must allow that to happen. If it doesn’t an onstage elemental battle ensues that’s not pleasing to behold. Although this didn’t happen often it did occur. Balance in all things, especially in opera is needed.
In modern opera electronics seem to eke in and play larger and larger roles. However, in traditional opera, voices simply are not electronically enhanced. Singers use their own strong bodies with trained breath support and projection in such a way as to not require a mic. The electronically enhanced voices in this opera took some getting used to for me.
However, the operatic sounds of Octavio Moreno were a delight to hear. His voice was by far the most seasoned operatically trained voice on the stage, and his task to frequently change from being a dying man to a 25-year-old migrating worker was well done. Moreno accomplished instantaneous character changes by altering his posture and whole demeanor. In speaking to him in the mezzanine after the show Moreno was very personable and shared with me about how the show was received in Paris, France. People recognized and approached him on the street and exclaimed how the opera’s displacement theme had touched them. Some were immigrants that had fled war-torn countries and their families too had been torn apart. Moreno mentioned that the cast was worried about whether their mariachi opera would be accepted in France, since it’s certainly a far cry from being an American border city. Their worries were relieved by the appreciative feedback from many.
It’s extraordinary that much of this opera actual takes place in Fort Worth and now it’s being performed there. Many audience members I spoke with said that they were brought to tears by the story, and I surely did hear many uncomfortable coughs during the performance… the type that people sometimes do when they’re trying to keep from crying.
The Houston Grand Opera commissioned this work which was first performed in 2010, and has since been performed in Phoenix, San Diego, Chicago, and Paris, France. Not many special effects were used but the significant and effective one of pieces of red flitting down was lovely and gave the appearance of monarch butterflies fluttering down the back of the stage. During the opera Laurentino told of how as a boy he’d watched the migration of the brightly colored butterflies. When he became a man and went north to work he thought that he’d return to Mexico like the monarch to reunite with his wife and son. However, spoiler alert, before this could happen they tried to come to him. One of them dies in the desert and the coyote guide, sung by Juan Mejia, takes the survivor back to Mexico.
Laurentino, nonetheless, does make a new life and family for himself in Texas. His son Mark, sung by Brian Shircliffe, also a fine operatic voice, has a daughter who is a writer, Diana (Brittany Wheeler) who adores her grandfather and records his story.
The staging of the scenes with the daughter could have used a bit more imagination as much of the action occurred in a straight line on the stage with little variation. But Wheeler’s voice was pleasing and sweet even if her stage movement was a bit bland. She had the pipes for the higher notes but the composer gave nearly all the high notes to the male voices. Indeed, all the loveliest musical numbers with the most variance were given to guys. The women’s parts, although sonorous, all fell into midrange. There were no true sopranos and the vocal style used most often was more of a Latin mariachi style than operatic.
Combining musical genres puts some opera buffs into a tizzy, but it doesn’t bother me as long as it’s done well. I often heard the female singers experience difficultly; they projected so much in the chest and belting range that it seemed the voice was then worn out and faltered with occasional cracks when stretching to higher pitches. This strain was most notable in Vanessa Alonzo’s voice as she sang the role of Lupita. Her belting range was smooth but her higher pitches were noticeably strained. To even be speaking of belting range in opera is quite unusual but that’s the only way to put it.
The minimalistic set was manipulated well and the execution of the traditional dancing in the wedding scene was entertaining and seemed quite authentic. The cast performed it joyfully. The costuming designed by Cesar Galindo added to the feeling of being in the middle of a carefree celebration.
The unique and striking scene that stuck with me the most was when the women of the city in Mexico sang of being alone while all the men worked in the United States. Duarte and Alonzo’s voices blended and complemented each other well when they sang the duet “Un Pueblo Sin Hombres.” They were widows without a body to bury. It was poignant to view this side of the migrant story—most non-Latino Americans never have or take the opportunity to do this. When Mexican workers build houses, cut lawns, clean offices, or pick vegetables, we don’t consider the fact that these men have women and children left behind that miss them horribly. We accept this cheap labor while knowing nothing of the tears that accompany the sweat of their brows. This is an important and timely opera that depicts this struggle that needs to be brought to light, understood, and addressed.
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Bass Performance Hall
525 Commerce Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Final performance is Sunday, May 7th at 2:00 pm.
Production runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Single tickets start at $17. Military receives a discount. Student rush tickets are available, with ID, 15 minutes prior to performance.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call 817-731-0726
(Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).