Houston Grand Opera Takes First Mariachi Opera Across Atlantic

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Having commissioned the world's first Mariachi opera and premiered the work to great acclaim last season, Houston Grand Opera crosses the Atlantic with its pioneering creation for season-opening performances September 23-27 at the illustrious Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) features music by composer and writer José "Pepe" Martínez, with lyrics by Broadway director and author Leonard Foglia. To showcase the vibrant score-which ranges from plaintive, folk-lIke Balladry to rousing Latin dance rhythms-a live recording from the Houston premiere of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna will be released on CD by Albany Records on October 1.

Enthusing over last December's sold-out premiere run in Houston, the Houston Chronicle called Cruzar la Cara de la Luna "a bold first-time fusion" that "succeeded on all fronts." The newspaper added, "Kudos to [former] HGO general director Anthony Freud . . . for taking a chance on something different and realizing the concept so expertly." The New York Times chimed in, pointing out that "Houston Grand Opera [still] embraces bold ventures," while Culture Map called Cruzar "a stunning, emotional work." As on the recording, the upcoming Paris performances will feature Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán-the world's top mariachi ensemble, directed by Martínez-along with mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte as Renata (praised by the Houston Chronicle for her "intensity and conviction") and baritone Octavio Moreno as Laurentino (hailed as "warm and sympathetic").

The 2,000-seat Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris is renowned for showcasing original, compelling productions from around the globe, offering a platform to singers, musicians, actors, and dancers who have forged new paths across the international arts landscape. The invitation to open the new season at the Châtelet follows last year's sold-out Houston premiere performances at the Wortham Center and Talento Bilingüe de Houston. Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera through its "Song of Houston: Mexico 2010" project (in celebration of the anniversaries of Mexican independence and revolution), Cruzar la Cara de la Luna chronicles three generations of a family divided by countries and cultures, and depicts the emotional-spiritual connection to one's country of origin; the challenges of being a stranger in a strange land; and the very nature of home that is at the heart of the immigrant experience.

The fusion of mariachi and opera was the brainchild of former HGO general director Anthony Freud (now general director of Lyric Opera Chicago). Watching a performance by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, Freud was struck by the resonances between the two traditions. "Opera arias and mariachi songs tell human stories of love and loss, family and country; through music, they aim their narratives straight at the heart," he says. "It seemed to me a natural fit."

In melding the two worlds in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna-the musical storytelling tradition of mariachi with the dramatic structure of opera-lyricist Leonard Foglia drew from his own experience as a resident of both Mexico and the U.S. His story depicts the journeys of those who, like him, move between countries and cultures. He knew he was on the right track when he spoke with two sisters: Norma Morales and Myrna Vallejo, women of Mexican descent who work in the HGO Costume Department. When asked on which side of the border they feel most at home, both said they do not feel fully at home in either place. The challenge of defining "home" became the emotional core of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. Foglia was further inspired by a Houston Chronicle article on the difficulty of repatriating deceased Mexicans from the U.S. for burial in Mexico, and on the history of the bracero program, which brought Mexicans to work temporarily in the U.S. from the 1940s through the 1960s. The migration of the Monarch butterfly, from Central Mexico to Canada and back, provide a metaphor that gives the story figurative wings. Once Foglia had crafted the story and Martínez completed the music, the composer insisted on flying from Mexico to Houston to hand deliver the score. Martínez's arrival was delayed; not by air traffic, but by the numerous autographs the famed mariachi musician was asked to sign upon his arrival at the Houston airport.

HGO Now Represented by 21C

21C is proud to announce that it now represents Houston Grand Opera for national and international media and public relations. HGO-led by artistic director Patrick Summers, one of the nation's top opera conductors-opens its 2011-12 season on October 21 with a new production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville starring Nathan Gunn, Ana María Martínez and Lawrence Brownlee. Along with revivals of Fidelio (starring Karita Mattila and opening October 28), Verdi's La traviata, Don Carlos, and Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (with Joyce DiDonato in the title role), HGO will present a new production of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia directed by Arin Arbus. Since its inception in 1955, Houston Grand Opera has grown from a small regional organization into an internationally renowned opera company. HGO enjoys a reputation for commissioning and producing new works, including 44 world premieres and six American premieres since 1973. In addition to producing and performing world-class opera, HGO contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO has toured extensively, including trips to Europe and Asia, and is the only opera company to have won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and two Emmy awards. HGO's performances are broadcast nationally and internationally over the WFMT Radio Network, New York City's WQXR, the European Broadcasting Union, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Cruzar" Biographies

José "Pepe" Martínez (composer) was born in Tecalitlán, Jalisco, Mexico, and at the age of 12 joined his first mariachi band as a violinist. He began writing music when he was 19, forming his own mariachi ensemble in 1966 called Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán, which was one of the most dynamic mariachi bands in Mexico throughout the mid-1960s and early '70s. In 1975, he joined Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Today, as the ensemble's music director, Martínez continues performing, writing, and breaking new ground in the creation of mariachi music. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna is his first opera.

Leonard Foglia (director, librettist) directed Terrence McNally's 1996 Tony Award-winning play Master Class on Broadway; his other Broadway directing credits include Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott. Off-Broadway, his directing credits include One Touch of Venus for Encores! at City Center; If Memory Serves by Jonathan Tolins; By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea by Terrence McNally, Joe Pintauro, and Lanford Wilson at the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Bay Street Theater Festival; and Lonely Planet by Steven Dietz at The Circle Repertory Company. At Houston Grand Opera, he has had a close association with the works of composer Jake Heggie, having directed the world premieres of The End of the Affair (2004), Last Acts (2009) and Dead Man Walking (2010).

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán was founded in 1898 by Gaspar Vargas in Tecalitlán, Jalisco, Mexico. Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán is considered to be the most influential group in the history of mariachi music, playing an integral role in the evolution of the genre. In the 1930s, its leadership was taken over by Gaspar's son, Silvestre Vargas; he and Ruben Fuentes, the first trained musician ever to direct the ensemble, led Mariachi Vargas into the modern era of films, recordings and broadcasts. Prominent musicians who have worked with Mariachi
Vargas in the ensuing decades included Pedro Infante, Miguel Aceves Mejía, Lola Beltrán and José Alfredo Jiménez. Mariachi Vargas has toured the world and shared its music with people of all cultures via more than 800 recordings.

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte is a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, and made her solo debut at Houston Grand Opera as Renata in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. She has been a member of HGO's touring company Opera to Go! since 2007. She also performs Storybook Opera in Spanish throughout the Houston area. Her musical career began in Mexico, where she performed in many musical-Theater Productions, creating roles in numerous world premieres written and directed by composer Alberto Espino.

Baritone Octavio Moreno, a recent Houston Grand Opera Studio alumnus, has performed with HGO in The Queen of Spades, The Elixir of Love and Rigoletto during the past two seasons. Originally from Mexico, he won third place in the 2008 Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, and sang on behalf of Mexico in the 2009 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Performance Details

September 23-27, 2011
Times: 23rd at 8pm, 24th at 3pm and 8pm, 25th at 4pm, 26th at 8pm, 27th at 8pm. Venue: Théâtre du Châtelet (1 Place du Châtelet, 75001 Paris)
Ticketing and more information: 011-33-1-402-8284

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