When the cast of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna takes the stage at The Granada Theatre on October 1 and 3, the message of this fascinating and powerful mariachi opera will coincide with some of the facts surrounding its production. Just as the story onstage dramatizes the resiliency of a family that comes together after a painful period of separation, this Opera Santa Barbara production of Cruzar enacts the rebirth of our city’s performing arts community after a long pandemic hiatus.
The show, which has had a distinguished history of international success since its premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in 2010, represents an ingenious discovery on the part of its creators, José “Pepe” Martínez, founder of the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, and librettist Leonard Foglia. As it turns out, for a variety of reasons both cultural and musical, opera and mariachi make a great combination. In Cruzar, rather than pairing opera singers onstage with a traditional orchestra in the pit, Martinez and Foglia employed certain capabilities of traditional mariachi bands to bring all the musicians onstage and to have them sing, functioning as though they were the chorus in a Greek tragedy.
And Cruzar is tragic, as the Velasquez family must face the death of its patriarch, Laurentino (Bernardo Bermudez). But through the agony of the immigrant Laurentino’s passing, and the shared experience of grieving him among his children and grandchildren, something new is born. Because Laurentino immigrated from Michoacán to Texas, and fathered children on both sides of the border, his complex legacy requires everyone he leaves behind — his two sons, Rafael (Daniel Montenegro) and Marc (Efraín Solís), and their daughters, Renata (Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez) and Diana (Raphaella Medina), to make their peace with him, and to find a way to love and understand one another as the descendants of a single remarkable individual.
Speaking with Kostis Protopapas, the artistic and general director of Opera Santa Barbara, about this extraordinary production, I was struck by how prescient his decision to bring this particular work to Santa Barbara this season looks in light of what’s happening in this country right now. As arts organizations struggle to understand and to bridge the widening gap between their legacy audiences and the emerging demographics of a new century, and as our political leaders clash over how to deal humanely with those who seek asylum here, the message of Cruzar could not be more timely.
The shapes that “cross the face of the moon” in the show’s title are butterflies, with their migratory habits and extravagantly metamorphic life cycles. Through the 50-year span described by this visionary opera, we see that the life cycles and migratory experiences of human beings are no less dramatic, and just as rare and wonderful.
In addition to being the first major production at the Granada following the pandemic, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna is also the first of five major productions on tap this season from Opera Santa Barbara. The next three — the double bill of Il tabarro and El amor brujo (Oct. 29 and 31), Semele (Jan. 14 and 16, 2022), and As One (Mar. 25 and 27, 2022), will all be at the Lobero. The season’s final offering, La traviata (June 10 and 12, 2022), will be back at the Granada.
We are very fortunate to have one of the world’s most creative and dedicated opera companies in Santa Barbara, and, with OSB’s new policy of a “you decide the price” ticketing, there’s no excuse for not attending at least one of these amazing performances. Visit operasb.org for details.