Ordway Music Theater gets a dose of mariachi music for Minnesota Opera’s production of “Cruzar La Cara De La Luna” (To Cross the Face of the Moon). Infusing the Mexican folk music genre into an operatic format, the work speaks to the Mexican immigrant experience as well as the lasting legacy of families who called the United States home over several generations.
Recounting the journey of a family divided by two countries and a tragic fate, the play is colored – metaphorically and in Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic and costume design – with the hues of a monarch butterfly. The monarch serves as a key image in the opening song, “En Frágiles Alas”, (On Fragile Wings), first sung softly by Mark performed by Efraín Solís at his sick father’s bed, as he play guitar. The song is repeated throughout the story, evoking the migratory cycles of the monarch butterfly and its formidable journeys between Mexico and the United States across generations.
Houston Grand Opera commissioned renowned mariachi composer José “Pepe” Martinez and librettist Leonard Foglia to create the first opera of its kind in 2010. The Minnesota Opera production — a co-production with Austin Opera — features several of the members of the original cast, including Octavio Moreno, who plays Laurentino, the patriarch of the family saga, and Cecilia Duarte, who plays Laurentino’s first love, Renata. Both are trained opera singers born in Mexico, while another original cast member, Vanessa Alonzo, is a well-known mariachi singer. Alonzo sings the role of Lupita, Renata’s friend, with his powerful and catchy voice.
In the original Houston Grand Opera production, composer Martínez’s mariachi ensemble, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, performed with the singers as backing singers on stage. For the Minnesota Opera production, conductor David Hanlon created a new orchestral arrangement for the Minnesota Opera Orchestra, employing instruments not typically used in mariachi such as woodwinds and percussion. The full sound adds to the emotional feeling of the piece, bringing weight to dramatic moments and a lively touch to celebratory scenes.
Three musicians on stage play the guitarrón (a large bass guitar), the guitarra and the high vihuela. Dressed in traditional mariachi outfits, the mariachi players on stage often hover above the main action of the story, playing their instruments on the balcony while witnessing what happens between the characters, backlit by a huge moon.
Unlike typical mariachi bands, the mariachi players on stage do not sing, leaving that to the cast singers. This differs from previous productions of the opera featuring the Mariachi Vargas ensemble, which had singers in the group.
In director David Radamés Toro’s production for Minnesota Opera, the three musicians on stage remain quite detached from the chorus and the characters in the story. For much of the opera, they watch from a distance. Their presence seems disturbing and underutilized.
Where Radamés Toro’s direction excels is in the relationships developed between the characters, both in 2010 and 50 years earlier, on the wedding day of Laurentino and Renata. Their story and that of their children encompasses the brutal realities of immigration and its subsequent impact on children and grandchildren. The production successfully illustrates the complexity of different family dynamics by offering a message of hope, forgiveness and redemption.
“Cruzar La Cara De La Luna” by Minnesota Opera
- When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday November 9 and Saturday November 11; 2 p.m. Sunday November 12
- Or: The Ordway, 345 Washington Street, Saint-Paul
- Tickets: $25 to $228
- Capsule: The Minnesota Opera is getting the mariachi treatment.