Creating and preserving stories of our people and culture
When the curtain goes up on Houston Grand Opera’s 41st world premiere this month, audiences are in for a surprise.
To Cross the Face of the Moon / Cruzar la Cara de la Luna is more than just another opera—it’s opera blended with mariachi.
If that seems like a strange pairing, think again. According to HGO General Director and CEO Anthony Freud, the two art forms share similar roots.
“Opera arias and Mariachi songs tell human stories of love and loss, family and country; through music they aim their narratives straight at the heart,” says Freud. “It seemed to me that the two traditions were a natural fit. I wanted to be certain that we respected the integrity of both traditions in the piece we created, so it was also natural to turn to Pepe Martinez to compose it, given how strongly he has influenced contemporary Mariachi repertoire, and to Leonard Foglia whose truly operatic style of storytelling and theatricality is his signature, to write the lyrics.
José “Pepe” Martinez is the music director of Mariachi Vargas de
Tecalitlán, one of the world’s most acclaimed Mariachi ensembles, and Leonard Foglia is an acclaimed Broadway director. The production, which will be Mariachi Vargas deTecalitlán’s only Houston performance this year is commissioned through Houston Grand Opera’s Song of Houston project, an ongoing initiative that aims to tell the stories of the people of Houston. The opera will be performed in concert by a cast that includes mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte, baritone and HGO studio alumnus Octavio Moreno, and Martinez, together with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.
To Cross the Face of the Moon / Cruzar la Cara de la Luna chronicles three generations of a family, divided by countries and cultures. As a Mexican/American man deals with the approaching death of his father, he is forced to face questions about his own place in the world and straddling two cultures. As long buried secrets are revealed, he finds himself dramatically re-evaluating his own understanding of what makes a family.
When Freud took the helm of HGO five years ago, after heading Welsh National Opera, he knew he was about to have to tackle a cultural divide of sorts. He knew that often in America, opera is seen as a four-hundred-year-old art form that has no relevance in today’s world. He set forth on a mission to change that thinking, launching HGOco, a community outreach arm for Houston Grand Opera that not only brought opera into Houston’s neighborhoods through performances by the company’s Opera to Go! arm, but also asked those neighborhoods for their input in helping to create and preserve the stories of the people of Houston.
The first effort of this type was HGO’s world premiere, The Refuge, a 2007 production that revolved around seven immigrant groups (African, Central American, Indian, Mexican, Pakistani, Soviet-era Jewish and Vietnamese) and their settling in Houston. The result was a critical—and a community—success.
“Our goal with The Refuge was to tell the story of Houston with words and music,” says Freud. “And, of course, that’s what opera does. With To Cross the Face of the Moon, we’re adding another layer to our Song of Houston project and we’re telling another story about the meaning of home, of culture.”
“At its heart, Song of Houston is an extraordinary series of projects that celebrate the people who define the unique character of our city,” commented Sandra Bernhard, Director of HGOco, which produces and manages the Song of Houston Project. “[With To Cross the Face of the Moon] we wanted to focus our efforts on the Mexican community in Houston because of the multi-generational nature of their experience here. This project gave us the opportunity to explore a universal theme of home and belonging and to collaborate in a way that honors a unique musical tradition. We’re honored to be bringing something new and very special into being.”
“We cannot simply talk about the value of opera in our society,” says Freud. “We have to demonstrate it. In Houston, we live in a huge, multicultural crucible of creativity. As a 21st century opera company, we have a responsibility to apply the work we do to our community.”
To Cross the Face of the Moon / Cruzar la Cara de la Luna
November 13, 2010
8:00 pm, Brown Auditorium, Wortham Theater Center
500 Texas Street, Houston, TX 77002
Tickets and Information: www.houstongrandopera.org, 713-228-5737