Ordway Music Theater gets a dose of mariachi music for Minnesota Opera’s production of “Cruzar La Cara De La Luna” (Crossing the Face of the Moon). Translating the folk-derived Mexican musical genre into an operatic format, the work addresses the experiences of Mexican immigration and the lasting legacies of families that have made the United States their home over multiple generations.
The play tells of the journey of a family separated by two countries and their tragic fate and is colored – metaphorically and in the stage and costume design by Arnulfo Maldonado – with the colors of a monarch butterfly. The monarch serves as a key image in the opening song “En Frágiles Alas” (On Fragile Wings), first sung gently by Mark and performed by Efraín Solís at his ailing father’s bedside while he played the guitar. The song is repeated throughout the story, evoking the migratory cycles of the monarch butterfly and its vast journeys between Mexico and the United States over generations.
The Houston Grand Opera commissioned acclaimed mariachi composer José “Pepe” Martinez and librettist Leonard Foglia to create the first opera of its kind back in 2010. The Minnesota Opera production – a co-production with Austin Opera – features several of the original cast members see, including Octavio Moreno, who plays Laurentino, the patriarch of the family saga, and Cecilia Duarte, who portrays Laurentino’s first love Renata. Both are trained Mexican-born opera singers, while another original cast member, Vanessa Alonzo, is a well-known mariachi singer. Alonzo sings the role of Renata’s friend Lupita with her powerful, powerful voice.
In the original Houston Grand Opera production, composer Martínez’s mariachi ensemble, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, performed with the singers as onstage accompaniment. For the Minnesota Opera production, conductor David Hanlon created a new orchestral arrangement for the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and used instruments not normally used in mariachi, such as woodwinds and percussion. The rich sound contributes to the emotional feel of the piece, giving weight to the dramatic moments and adding a lively touch to solemn scenes.
Three musicians on stage play the guitarrón (a fat bass guitar), the guitarra and the high vihuela. Dressed in traditional mariachi costumes, the mariachi players on stage often hover above the main action of the story, playing their instruments on the balcony as they act as witnesses to what is transpiring between the characters, lit in the background by a giant moon .
Unlike typical mariachi bands, the mariachi players do not sing on stage, leaving this to the singers in the lineup. This differs from previous productions of the opera, which featured the Mariachi Vargas ensemble with singers.
In director David Radamés Toro’s production for Minnesota Opera, the three stage musicians remain quite distant from the chorus and the characters of the story. They watch much of the opera from a distance. Their presence feels threatening and is underutilized.
Radamés Toro’s direction is particularly notable for the relationships that emerged between the characters, both in 2010 and 50 years earlier, on the day of Laurentino and Renata’s wedding. Her story and that of her children encompasses the brutal reality of immigration and how it later impacts children and grandchildren. The production successfully illustrates the complexity of different family dynamics and offers a message of hope, forgiveness and redemption.
“Cruzar La Cara De La Luna” by Minnesota Opera
- When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 9th and Saturday, November 11th; 2 p.m. Sunday, November 12th
- Where: The Ordway, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
- Tickets: $25-$228
- Capsule: Minnesota Opera gets the mariachi treatment.