Family: The finale of Cruzar featuring, from left to right, Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez, Daniel Montenegro, Efrain Solis, and Raphaella Medina. | Credit: Courtesy

Look no further for a sign that life has returned to our grand performance venues than Opera Santa Barbara’s thrilling production of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. Propelled by a fabulous cast and a great story, this mariachi opera made a powerful impression on the enthusiastic audience. The initial 75-minute performance of the opera was followed immediately by another 45 minutes of concertizing by the Grammy Award–winning group Mariachi Los Camperos, a sequence that reinforced the success of the narrative and the crucial role of mariachi music and culture in the show. 

In classic opera fashion, the plot of Cruzar focuses on a seemingly intractable dilemma. Laurentino (Bernardo Bermudez) faces a terminal illness with something weighing on his conscience. Before he fathered Marc (Efrain Solis), his American son, he had a wife and a child in Mexico. Renata (Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez), the mother of Rafael (Daniel Montenegro), died on the journey to join her husband in the north, leaving her young son an apparent orphan. After decades of never talking about Mexico — this according to his American granddaughter, Diana (Raphaella Medina) — now, at the end of his life, Mexico and his lost wife and son are all he talks about. 

Reluctant at first to contact Rafael, Marc nevertheless yearns to connect with his Mexican identity, and, after much crisscrossing of the years between Laurentino’s courtship of Renata and his current situation in Los Angeles, the entire clan comes together for Laurentino’s passing, celebrating his life as analogous to the migration of the monarch butterflies he loves. There were multiple memorable turns for every major character, and some brilliant ones as well for supporting couple Lupita (Kelly Guerra) and Chucho (Sergio González). 

Thoughtful, articulate, and musically convincing, this was entertainment for adults. The complexity of Laurentino’s fate was never reduced to platitudes, and the emotional conflicts on both sides of the border were fully developed. Most strikingly, the story led the audience to a deeper understanding of the soul of mariachi music. As in all great opera, giving personality and motivation to the different voices in the music helped everyone to feel the score as something with human meaning. Congratulations to Opera Santa Barbara, stage director Octavio Cardenas, conductor David Hanlon, the cast, and the magnificent Mariachi Los Camperos for bringing this delightful production to Santa Barbara. 

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on February 16, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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