The New York City Opera’s newest venture, from January 25 to 28, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, has been the New York premiere of the first Mariachi opera, “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (To Cross the Face of the Moon, 2010), by late composer and co-librettist José “Pepe” Martínez and co-librettist and stage director Leonard Foglia. The opening night performance is considered here.
To emotional music of plangent lyricism—offered by operatic and mariachi soloists, and the Mariachi Los Camperos, who double as instrumentalists and chorus, with music director David Hanlon presiding—“Cruzar” sketches a wrenching tale of families split apart, in Mexico and the United States, given especially current pertinence by the hostility toward immigrants emanating from the White House. The titular image refers directly to the migration of monarch butterflies, evoking a parallel to the tenuous situation of immigrants, severed from loving or alienated family, or forced to make arduous, often illegal, and sometimes fatal journeys, in efforts to reunite with loved ones.
The vivid leading figures, obliged to make their mark in a too brief 75 minutes, were baritone Octavio Moreno as Laurentino, who leaves behind wife and son in an attempt to forge a better future for them in New York City, and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte, doubling as his wife and his granddaughter, both named Renata. Moreno and Duarte are veterans of the world premiere at Houston Grand Opera, as is mariachi singer Vanessa Alonzo, as Renata’s friend Lupita, also more or less abandoned by her own spouse Chucho, mariachi singer Miguel De Aranda, who journeys north with Laurentino. We meet Laurentino on his dying day in NYC, along with his American family, baritone—and guitarist—Efraín Solís as his son Mark/Marcos, by his second wife, and soprano Maria Valdes as Mark’s daughter Diana, and his Mexican family, tenor Daniel Montenegro as his first son Rafael and Renata, Rafael’s daughter, her grandmother’s namesake. Actor Miguel Nuñez is Victor, the coyote or guide, who tries to lead the first Renata, ailing and pregnant, and her young son Rafael (Vladimir Villano), to the United States. Much of the story is told in flashbacks.
The butterflies are evoked rhapsodically and lovingly in Laurentino and Renata’s wedding song—introduced by Solís, and echoed by the ensemble and by Laurentino and Renata, then Lupita and Chucho—and later by Laurentino, as he sings of the monarchs crossing the face of the moon, when he tries in vain to make his peace with the hostile adult Rafael, who has been told his father is dead and knows him only as the cause of his mother’s death. The half-brothers engage in an angry duet, actually two soliloquies, taking place in different countries, and a reconciliation duet, when they meet in person at their father’s deathbed. The daughters make their valiant effort to unite the families as one, as pain and resentment give way to hope and love and the radiant butterflies—beautiful, fragile, and determined—that symbolize them.
On February 20 and 21, NYC Opera presents soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci in recital at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. Visit www.nycopera.com
for more information about the company’s season.