Since the birth of its Song of Houston project in 2007, Houston Grand Opera has been actively pursuing a unique collaborative relationship with the city's Mexican community: commissioning and presenting new works that go beyond a merely curatorial approach to the shared culture of a significant majority of Houston's citizens, telling their stories and refining opera's "Euro-centric" musical-theatrical art with the cadences of the New World. In 2010, HGO commissioned and premiered the world's first Mariachi opera: Cruzar la Cara de la Luna ("To Cross the Face of the Moon"), a true blending of the musical and storytelling traditions of both opera and mariachi, composed by José "Pepe" Martínez (music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán) and co-written by Martínez with the distinguished Broadway director and writer Leonard Foglia. Now, after 2010's sold-out world-premiere performance and an acclaimed season-opening run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in September 2011 - and the subsequent release of the opera on CD (on Albany Records) - Cruzar returns home for its first full run on the main stage at HGO, where it will receive four performances at the Wortham Theater Center on March 21, 23 and 24, 2013.
America's evolving demographics, particularly the growth of the Hispanic community, has become an issue of national interest, especially evident after 2012's presidential election. Houston, where people of Hispanic or Latino heritage make up nearly 44 percent of the population, and more than 32 percent of the city's residents are specifically of Mexican descent, an energetic and proudly creative habit of celebrating and exploring this heritage has emerged in the city's arts scene during the last decade, taking various forms: from mariachi music programs in community centers and schools to Spanish-language theatrical companies.
Patrick Summers, HGO's Music and Artistic Director, says: "I am excited to present Cruzar primarily because it's a great opera; that it is also a cross-cultural invitation to our art form is an added bonus. Cruzar represents both a sign of the times, as well as a roadmap for our company's continued success, both artistically and financially, in the future." Summers is not alone in embracing Cruzar and what it represents; the opera will have two other outings at US opera houses in the 2013 season; the lauded HGO cast, together with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, known as "el mejor mariachi del mundo," will bring the work to San Diego Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Cruzar's storyline and characters came from within Houston's Mexican-American community, from stories told to writer/director Leonard Foglia by residents of the city. Foglia, who again will direct the show in San Diego and on its return to Houston, observed: "It's easy to talk about immigrants, and to forget that they are people with dreams, hopes, losses, deaths - people striving for something. I hope Cruzar tells that story. It was actually one of the costumers in the HGO costume shop, who had crossed the border while pregnant long ago, who made me think about it that way. When she saw the opera, she saw her story. She told me afterward, 'You told our side of the tale.'"
Cruzar tells the story of a family divided and defined by the border they have crossed, and re-crossed, over several generations. Laurentino, an octogenarian Mexican laborer, lies dying in his Houston home, surrounded by his family and longing for the other family he left behind many years before. Thoughts of his beloved wife Renata, who died in an attempt to cross the border, pervade his memory. The opera proceeds in fluid shifts between past and present, English and Spanish, Mexico and Texas, as Laurentino's families - and memories - come together in a rich, vibrant mariachi score. In a review of the opera's Paris premiere in September 2011, Classical TV reported, "At the end of this moving work, Théâtre du Châtelet shook with applause. You could hear weeping, but most of all you heard shouts of joy at the discovery of something wonderful and fresh."