Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera announces Cruzar la Cara de la Luna

Monday, October 22, 2012             

Lyric Opera of Chicago announces
Midwest premiere
of the world’s first mariachi opera,
Cruzar la Cara de la Luna
(To Cross the Face of the Moon)
By José “Pepe” Martínez and Leonard Foglia  

Performance to take place April 7, 2013, 3:30 p.m.
at Civic Opera House
with world-renowned Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán  

Subsequent performances planned
for Benito Juarez Community Academy (Chicago)
and Genesee Theatre (Waukegan) with Mariachi Aztlán from University of Texas Pan-American 

Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, announces 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 new, 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.

Today’s announcement takes place at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Joining Anthony Freud for the press conference are mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte, who created the role of Renata for the world premiere; Cayenne Harris, director of Lyric Unlimited; and Carlos Tortolero, founder and president of the NMMA, and Beatriz Margain, cultural attaché for the Consulate General of Mexico.

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. 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. He has numerous Broadway and off-Broadway directing credits and has a particularly close association with the works of Jake Heggie, having directed The End of the Affair (2004), Last Acts (2009) and Dead Man Walking (2010) at Houston Grand Opera.

Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera during the time that Anthony Freud was general director there, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna marked the celebration of the 2010 Mexican anniversaries of independence and revolution. It is an emotionally compelling piece that remains true to its mariachi culture. “The opera is real mariachi,” says Freud. “It encompasses nearly every classic rhythmic and stylistic structure of mariachi. I didn’t want to create something that was a pastiche or ‘mariachi lite’ – I wanted it to be the real thing.”

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.

“It’s easy to see why they’re the world’s leading mariachi,” says Freud. “Their musicality, virtuosity, and sheer energy are nothing short of amazing. They communicate with their audiences with great power and emotion. I have been fortunate enough to have attended many Vargas concerts over the past few years – they are truly unforgettable experiences.”

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna received its world premiere in Houston in December 2010 and was performed in Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet in 2011. “When the popular music of Mexico encounters opera, the result is a unique and astonishing spectacle,” wrote L’EXPRESS of Paris. Freud moved to Chicago in 2011 and realized that this opera could engage the Latino community here as well. 

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.

Cecilia Duarte, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, has portrayed Renata (the first wife of the opera’s central character) in all performances of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna since its 2010 premiere. Duarte has sung several roles with Houston Grand Opera’s touring company Opera to Go!, was a member of the HGO Chorus for six seasons, and created the role of Gracie in A Way Home (2010 world premiere and fully staged production with Opera Southwest, Albuquerque). Duarte has also participated in musical theater productions in Mexico with composer and director Alberto Espino, performing leading roles in several of his world premieres. She lives in Houston, where she performs and collaborates with various ensembles and composers.

The National Museum of Mexican Art, comprising one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the U. S., defines Mexican culture as sin fronteras (without borders). Its programs and exhibitions capture the wide range of Mexican cultural expressions and art forms, from ancient to modern and on both sides of the border, representing the Mexican community from its own point of view and in its own voice. As expressed in its mission statement, “We believe in art as a bridge between communities, and we believe that art in education expands minds and breaks down barriers while preserving cultural heritages.”

In collaborating with the National Museum of Mexican Art, Lyric plans to promote Cruzar la Cara de la Luna with a series of events.  “The National Museum of Mexican Art is very excited about partnering with Lyric Opera on the mariachi opera project,” says Tortolero. “This fantastic project will be a catalyst in reaching out to the Mexican community.”

Additional performances of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna are planned later in April with the same cast of singers but with a different mariachi. For those performances, the cast will be joined by Mariachi Aztlán, an award-winning mariachi from the University of Texas Pan-American. These performances will take place at Benito Juarez Academy in Pilsen and Genesee Theatre in Waukegan; dates and details will be announced in the near future. School- and community-based programs aimed at deepening the experience for new audiences are also planned for Pilsen and Waukegan.

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.

Lead Sponsor: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Cosponsors: Maria Bechily, The Chicago Community Trust, Ingredion Incorporated, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Ken Norgan, The Quaker Oats Company, Mr. and Mrs. Alejandro Silva, and Walgreens.