BWW Review: NY City Opera's Moving, Lively CRUZAR and 'What is an Opera?'
In many areas of the arts in New York, January is a quiet month. But in the opera world, the last few weeks certainly have been jumping. It has also been a fine time for asking "What is an Opera?" For me, January started with Prototype 2018's ACQUANETTA and ended this past weekend--with many in between--with New York City Opera's "first mariachi opera," CRUZAR LA CARA DE LA LUNA (TO CROSS THE FACE OF THE MOON).
From the bunch of new works that I've seen (in whole or in part), including CRUZAR, there really isn't a pair that comes close to being joined at the hip. And that's just fine with me. After all, the word 'opera' comes with a lot of baggage--particularly for audiences who think of it as something very high-brow, fancy-schmancy or in some way or other 'NOT FOR ME'.
I'm talking about works that ranged from Prototype's more traditional FELLOW TRAVELERS and abstract THE ECHO DRIFT to a concert of Houston Grand Opera's rollicking opera-to-go MONKEY AND FRANCINE IN THE CITY OF TIGERS (previewed in concert by American Lyric Theatre in New York) and fascinating snippets from the Laura Kaminsky-Mark Campbell-Kim Reed dark TODAY IT RAINS, via Opera Parallele and American Opera Projects. Then there was also Donizetti's grand and charming opera lirico L'ELISIR D'AMORE at the Met. A mixed bag, to say the least.
Let's look at City Opera's CRUZAR, which was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, where it premiered in 2010 and was performed here in NY as part of New York City Opera's "Opera en Espanol" initiative, at the Rose Theatre of Jazz from Lincoln Center. Call it an opera, a chamber work or a music-theatre piece, it features a score that moves the heart and raises the pulse, and a story that can touch anyone. (Well, maybe not those attached to the Casa Blanca in the Distrito de Columbia ...)
This tuneful, lively and appealing piece had its premiere in Houston back in 2010--when no one dreamed that the political conversation in this country would include building a wall between the US and Mexico--and has had a rich afterlife, as it deserves, revolving around love, family and the definition of "where is home?"
Leonard Foglia's staging is uncomplicated and absolutely suited to letting the piece speak for itself, with its robust, wonderful score, mariachi style, by José "Pepe" Martinez, a bilingual libretto by Martinez and Foglia and simple book also by Foglia. It's the story of Laurentino, who left his wife and son in Mexico to make a better living in the US and provide a better life for them, only to be separated from them (forever, in the case of the wife, who dies trying to follow him; his lifetime, in the case of his son). Unlike most operas, there's a happy, though bittersweet, ending.
The effective cast of eight, led by music director David Hanlon, included Octavio Moreno, who was moving as Laurentino, the central character of the story, but everyone in the cast--Cecilia Duarte (a touching Renata), Efraín Solís (a fine Mark), Maria Valdes, Daniel Montenegro, Miguel de Aranda, Miguel Nuñez--all did well. I was particularly taken by Vanessa Alonzo as Lupita, Renata's friend.
My biggest complaint was that I wished the theatre (1200 seats) were smaller for this chamber work, to be closer to the singers in its minimalist setting and be better enveloped by the music from the 13 musicians of the lively Mariachi Los Camperos ensemble, particularly the ensemble's vibrant violins.
So, is CRUZAR an opera? Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn. It rouses the spirit and warms the soul. That's what counts.
ACQUANETTA by Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman
FELLOW TRAVELERS by Greogry Spears and Greg Pierce
THE ECHO DRIFT by Mikael Karlsson and co-librettists Elle de Voss and Kathryn Walat
TODAY IT RAINS by Laura Kaminsky and co-librettists Mark Campbell and Kim Reed
MONKEY AND FRANCINE IN THE CITY OF TIGERS by Kamala Sankaram and David Johnston