Review: A Mariachi Opera Addresses Roiling Issues of Immigration


On his deathbed, Laurentino lets slip that before he married Mark’s mother, he had a Mexican wife, Renata (Cecilia Duarte, a creamy-voiced mezzo-soprano), and that they had a son, Rafael, who is presumably still living in Mexico.

In the context of this story, that Laurentino in his hazy mental state confuses Mark with Rafael has uncommon poignancy. He can’t bear to think of his earlier life or even return to his homeland. Yet, he’s still claimed by it. Past and present mingle in his mind.

The opera, which runs 75 minutes without a break, becomes a series of beautifully juxtaposed scenes that shift from New York today to Mexico 50 years earlier, when we see Laurentino and Renata marry. At the center is the crucial scene when Renata attempts to reach America with little Rafael, only to die in the desert, long known metaphorically as the “face of the moon.”

The mariachi musical idiom is run through with supple, animated rhythmic riffs. The bright trumpets lend flair. But the music is carried by lyrical, melodic stretches in the violins. There is restraint and modesty in the Martínez’s songs and ensemble numbers. During the jubilant scene when Laurentino and Renata marry, the music is festive yet tinged with darkness, conveying, I felt, that life is full of unknowns. Most operas would milk the final scene when Laurentino’s first son, Rafael, appears at the old man’s deathbed and reconciles. This one plays it with melancholic understatement.

The impressive eight-person cast includes Vanessa Alonzo as Lupita, Renata’s friend; Miguel De Aranda as Chucho, Lupita’s husband, who convinces Laurentino to come seek their futures in America; Daniel Montenegro as the adult Rafael; and Miguel Nuñez as Victor, the well-meaning guide hired by Renata to take her to America. David Hanlon is the music director.

Moment after moment, this piece captured the dilemma of immigration in sadly human ways. When Laurentino tells his young wife that he must go to America for the future of the family, she bluntly replies, “I didn’t marry you to get money in the mail.”

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