Marvelous Mariachi

Houston Grand Opera commissions first-ever mariachi opera

Houston Grand Opera commissions first-ever mariachi opera

The Houston Grand Opera's 41st world premiere on Nov. 13 will be a historic one — the occasion marks the world's first-ever mariachi opera.

HGO general director and CEO Anthony Freud got the itch to commission To Cross the Face of the Moon/Cruzar la Cara de la Luna after seeing Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán perform at the Wortham Theater Center more than two years ago. The group, founded in Mexico in 1898, struck Freud with its operatic themes. He approached longtime Vargas' musical director José "Pepe" Martinez, and after more than a year and a half of discussions, convinced him to write the music for a mariachi opera.

Martinez will be making his opera debut in the part of Chucho.

Add text by Broadway writer/director Leonard Foglia, costumes by local design phenom Cesar Galindo and a story with both universal relevance and local poignancy and you've got what promises to be a unique experience.

The story centers around an elderly Mexican-American man living in Houston who, on his death bed, reveals to his grown son and teenage granddaughter that he left a second family in Mexico when he immigrated to the United States as a migrant worker. His dying wish is to see them one last time before he dies.

Freud says the story is not folkloric but rather a serious examination of the meaning of home. Is it where we were born, where we live, where we die — or something more complex?

The music is written specifically for mariachi, with no chorus or additional orchestra, a fact made evident in rehearsal when HGO chorus member Cecelia Duarte and MECA grad and HGO debut performer Vanessa Cerda Alonzo sang a duet from the opera. It begs for mariachi music.

The world premiere is in conjunction with the celebration of the 2010 Mexican anniversaries (the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence and 100th anniversary of its revolution). The project, which was commissioned through HGO's Song of Houston project, is part of a larger campaign to reach out to communities for whom opera has, until now, been irrelevant, Freud says.

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán will be on hand for the opera's one-night-only world-premiere performance. While there are no plans for production outside of Houston, the opera will be re-staged the first week of December with Talento Bilingüe de Houston. Those performances, on Dec. 3, 4 and 5, will be accompanied by The University of Texas Pan American's Mariachi Aztlan, which is today performing at the White House.


Can't get enough mariachi opera? Watch KTRK Ch. 13's report:

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"To Cross the Face of the Moon"
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Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan Photo by Al Rendon
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HGO chorus member Cecelia Duarte and MECA grad and HGO debut performer Vanessa Cerda Alonzo sing a duet from the new opera. Photo by Caroline Gallay
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Jose Pepe Martinez will be making his opera debut. Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
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Leonard Foglia, librettist, director and designer Photo by Craig Schwartz
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Mariachi Vargas Photo by © Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters