The Column Online



A Mariachi Opera
Music by Jose “Pepe” Martinez
Lyrics by Jose “Pepe” Martinez and Leonard Foglia
Book by Leonard Foglia
Commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Fort Worth Opera

Conductor: David Hanlan
Production: Leonard Foglia
Scenic and Projection Designer: Elaine J. McCarthy
Costume Design: Scott Marr
Lighting Design: Chad R. Jung
Sound Design: Ra Byn Taylor
Repetiteur: Charlene Lotz
Stage Manager: Lisa Marie Lange
Assistant Director: David Radames Toro
Amorita: Abigail Santos Villalobos
Luis: Daniel Montenegro
Enrique: Paul La Rosa
Acalan: Ricardo Rivera
Juana: Vanessa Cerda-Alonzo
Augostino: Luis Ledesma
Isabel: Cassandra Zoe Velasco
Xihutil: Octavio Moreno
Miguel/Hotel Manager: Miguel Nunez
Daniel: Francisco Garcia, Jr.
Angel Martinez, Jorge Aguayo Nunez, Francisco Aguilar, Oscar Arellano, Simon Pedro Casasola, Daniel Godinez, Roberto Hernandez, Pedro Hernandez Molina, Marcos Lopez, Fernando Martinez, Luis Fernando Martinez, Alejandro Martinez, Edwin Origel, Daniel Rosales, Moyses Vargas

Reviewed Performance: 5/10/2019

Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

I am going to begin by telling you the end. The final song of “El Pasado Nunca Se Termina/The Past Is Never Finished” was sung full-throated by an unexpected and delightful source, giving perfect, joyful, wise culmination to all that had gone before. The audience immediately rose cheering in a continuous and raucous ovation as the remarkable cast moved to the front of the stage with dignity and grace, and took their well-deserved bows. The world-renown Mariachi orchestra that had provided gorgeous accompaniment and were integral to the telling of the story got shouts of bravo! as they took their own well-deserved bows. The theatre was lit up by a diverse crowd of happy faces filing out, so glad we had experienced this show.

My friend and I discussed the themes and deeper meanings of the show on the drive home, concluding that while the opera is accessible for everyone (there were many engaged children in our audience), this is not a “light” piece. Its themes are universal – love flourishing in unexpected places, the power of family, the call to freedom, the fear fathers and mothers live with when their children live in troubled times, the need to fight for what is right. There were several moments in this Opera that were transcendent; the emotion of the songs, the delight of the rousing Mariachi orchestra, the outstanding singers, and its themes combining to powerfully impact the audience to new understanding. This is storytelling at its finest.

“Mariachi Opera” is not a term one hears often. The combination works delightfully, and makes you wish there were more of these being composed. The opera is bilingual, sung primarily in Spanish, with no intermission, and as is usual with Opera there is a projection with the translation above the stage. The seventy minutes of performance flies by, as the composer and librettist have wisely left you wishing for more. My friend and I came away from this performance with a deeper understanding of Mexican culture and heritage, with its deep-rooted mix of indigenous Mestizo Indians, the Spanish influence, and yes, even Texan and American values as well. One of the best gifts of the evening was the stirring “El Alma De Mexico/The Soul of Mexico” performed by Pepe and the phenomenal Nuevo Tecalitlan Mariachi group from Guadalajara, Mexico. It drew loud cheers and applause from our audience, as it explained the larger meaning behind the “sound of Mexico” that the Mariachi orchestra represents. I promise you will never hear Mariachi music in the same way again after you see this remarkable performance. In a word, this Mariachi orchestra was WOW! There was nothing tame in this performance, the sensational sound they produced, and the fun they had while performing flowed out over the audience as a rousing gift.

The vocal artists were uniformly wonderful. They are a cast of superb singers who have performed all over the world. The opera’s score lends itself to a full-throated, memorable vocal performances by the cast. This is music that will stick with you and make you want to own the cast album. Abigail Santos Villalobos as Amorita has the most incredible soaring soprano that elevates the art form and a wonderful stage presence as well. Twice in the show, her voice brought the audience to tears as we experienced its beauty and passion, with “El Sueno de Amorita/Amorita’s Dream” and the heartbreaking “Le Puedo Dar Todo/I Can Give Him Everything”, sung later in the show with powerful baritone Luis Ledesma as landowner and father Augustino. Equally outstanding was Vanessa Cerda-Alonzo as Amorita’s mother, Juana, whose sometimes comedic, sometimes tragic moments on the stage were bolstered by her incredible range and power. It is her evocative and mysterious rendition of “Las Estrellas, El Viento, El Fuego, La Tierra/The Stars, the Wind, the Fire, the Earth” sung with the remarkable baritone Octavio Moreno as Xihuitl that begins the show, and makes you realize you are in for a moving piece of theatre. The words by themselves are evocative: “The stars in the firmament see everything that happens. Brilliant and desolate, they tell the story.” Matching that poetry with stunning music and performers becomes a transformative performance that should not be missed.

Without giving away too much of this well-executed story, at the core of this star-crossed love story and tragedy are two young people who find themselves at odds in the setting of 1910 and the beginning of the Mexican revolution. Amorita is one, and the well-educated landowner’s son, curious and warm Luis portrayed by Daniel Montenegro is the other. Montenegro is possessed of a flexible and intoxicating tenor voice which soared. The brother of Amorita provides a third side to the proceedings, brandishing pistols and daring to be more than his heritage dictates. Ricardo Rivera is Acalan, an impoverished man who has tasted freedom and wants more for his family than just pouring their sweat and blood into land they do not own so that the rich can buy baubles. Rivera portrays his character with a rough-edged, rough-voiced machismo that makes complete sense in the realm of the story. The writing is so powerful, you are rooting for each of these characters. The rousing duo between Acalan and Luis “Nuestra Tierra/Our Land” is nuanced in its vision that there are no clear winners in the struggle they are locked into – each side has its own version of what is right. This balanced view of the world permeates the opera, and is the key to making it accessible to everyone.

The love parents have for their children is another huge part of this story, and makes it resonate. Isabel, mother to only child Luis is played elegantly by Mezzo-soprano Cassandra Zoe Velasco. Her stage presence was remarkable, and a standout is her duet with husband Augustino,“Mi Hijo/My Son,” later even more movingly reprised in a second duet with Juana where both women’s voices were used to full effect. Later in the show, a modern-day handsome and influential father, Enrique, sung by Paul La Rosa shows his own love for his son, feisty teen Daniel (clear-voiced and joyful Francisco Javier Garcia, Jr.) by taking him to discover his heritage, and in so doing, enriches them both. They have many fun moments on the stage together, and La Rosa shines in his solo “Un Cuento Empezado Hace Tiempo/A Tale Started Long Ago.” The connection between parent and child is beautifully rendered by the entire cast: “To all the children, know that your parents are with you, and know that you never travel alone on the road of life.”

The opera itself is not sung all the way through, and has fine moments of scene work interspersed, well supported by the simple set and enhanced by rear projections by Elaine McCarthy – the passing of Halley’s comet in particular was magical. Lighting design by Chad R. Jung is outstanding and allows for the mystery of the past to sink in. Costuming by Scott Marr perfectly captures the class division and his feathered headpiece for the mysterious Xihuitl is stunning. The music and clean direction by Librettist and Director Leonard Foglia tell this bittersweet tale of two families without overt sentimentality. Instead this moving score and book go to core values, to the heart of what is important, and in so doing elevates this beautiful opera to something truly memorable. The strength of its music so gorgeously penned by Jose “Pepe” Martinez tugs at your heartstrings in a uniquely lively way because of the wise choice to use the Mariachis. This is theatre that reaches into you and makes you feel and relate. This is a wonderful show that soars and is suitable for all ages, and all heritages too. It is inclusive, it is wonderful, it is unique. I hope you make the time to see it.

Bass Performance Hall, 625 Commerce St. Ft. Worth TX 76102
Friday May 10th at 7.30pm, Saturday May 11th at 7.30 pm, and Sunday May 12th at 2pm.
Ticket Office: 817.212.4280