Mariachi Opera to make Midwest premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The music of Mexico will hit the operatic stage this spring. Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, announced the Midwest premiere of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon), the world’s first mariachi opera and the first Spanish-language work to be presented by Lyric Opera in the company’s 58-year history.

The performance takes place on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. in the Civic Opera House and is part of Lyric Unlimited, a multifaceted program of expanded community engagement and artistic initiatives aimed at exploring ways in which opera can resonate with individuals and communities with little or no prior interest in opera. The National Museum of Mexican Art has partnered with Lyric Opera to bring additional performances to Benito Juarez Academy in Pilsen and Genesee Theatre in Waukegan (details to be announced later.)

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna’s music is by José “Pepe” Martínez, who joined the famed Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán as music director in 1975. Although this is his first opera, his work as a composer and arranger ushered in a new era for mariachi. Lyrics are by Martínez and Leonard Foglia, who directed Terrence McNally’s 1996 Tony Award-winning play Master Class on Broadway.

The work was originally commissioned by Houston Grand Opera when Freud was general director there.  Cruzar la Cara de la Luna marked the celebration of the 2010 Mexican anniversaries of independence and revolution.

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, world-renowned as the greatest mariachi, has appeared in more than 200 films and has made numerous recordings. Since the 1950s it has held the title of “World’s Best Mariachi.” The band actively participates in international mariachi festivals to promote pride in the genre and to encourage young mariachis to pursue lifelong careers.

The story of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna follows three generations of the Velásquez family as they confront questions of national and personal identity. Patriarch Laurentino (baritone Octavio Moreno) is dying and wants his ashes scattered in the Monarch-butterfly sanctuary of his Mexican home province, Michoacán (the butterflies’ north-south migration is  the work’s central metaphor). Unknown to his American family is the fact that Laurentino had a previous family that he had left in Mexico. His American-born son Mark (baritone Brian Shircliffe) and granddaughter Diana (soprano Brittany Wheeler) learn about Laurentino’s first wife, Renata (mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte) and their son Rafael (tenor David Guzman). Also central to the story are Renata’s friend Lupita (Vanessa Cerda-Alonzo), her husband Chucho (Saúl Avalos), and the “coyote” Victor, (Juan Mejia). Through flashbacks, the tale of the secret family unfolds and leads to a moving and joyful reunion.

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and the original multi-ethnic cast (a mixture of classically trained and mariachi singers) will all make Lyric debuts.  The classic mariachi consists of 13 players: six violins, three trumpets, one guitar, one guitarrón (a large-bodied bass guitar), a vihuela (a small soprano guitar), and a special mariachi harp. (Several of the players also sing.) All members of Mariachi Vargas will be onstage for Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, and in full traditional mariachi costume. The performance at Lyric will be semi-staged, with costumes and props.

Ticket prices for the April 7 Civic Opera House performance range from $25 to $75 with VIP seating at $125. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna will be performed in Spanish and English, with projected translations in English and Spanish.  Additional details are available at the Lyric Opera website.

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