The weather turned unseasonably cold and windy midway through last Saturday, and undoubtedly that had an effect on the attendance for Fort Worth Opera’s first outdoor broadcast of one of its operas. Still, the rain held off until the small hours of the morning, allowing the event to go forward and a good-sized crowd to watch José “Pepe” Martínez’ Cruzar la Cara de la Luna on the big screen. This is the first installment of the opera troupe’s Noches de Ópera initiative that will bring four Spanish-language works about Latin American subjects to our stage, and despite Mother Nature’s unwelcome meddling, it’s off to an auspicious start.
The story is about Laurentino Velázquez (Octavio Moreno), who in the present day is a septuagenarian who lies dying in Fort Worth. The old man has made his life and a new family in America, but he longs to see Rafael (Daniel Montenegro), the son he left behind in Michoacán decades ago. When his American son Mark (Brian Shircliffe) and granddaughter Diana (Brittany Wheeler) find out about Rafael’s existence, they try to make a reunion happen.
While some of the opera’s spoken dialogue is in English, all the sung material is in Spanish. The singers are backed by a mariachi band — for this performance, Martínez’ own celebrated group, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán — instead of a traditional orchestra. Opera may not have been the musical environment that the composer grew up in, but nevertheless this work demonstrates a fine understanding of the form’s demands: the need to balance male voices with female ones and energetic, up-tempo selections with slower, more contemplative numbers, as well as writing for classically trained voices. This was the first of two operas that Martínez completed, the other being El Pasado Nunca Se Termina, and while his grasp on storytelling isn’t the best, it’s still a shame that the composer died last year (almost one year to the day before Saturday’s performance) before doing further work in this area, especially since the field of Spanish-language operas isn’t large.
What’s it like to experience opera outdoors? The telecast, handled by Telemundo’s KXTX-TV, did not have English subtitles, and while my own Spanish allowed me to get the gist of the story, I think the non-Spanish speakers in the crowd could have used them. Much of the audience was indeed Spanish speakers, though, and they listened attentively, reserving their greatest appreciation for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. The sound system set up in Sundance Square was good enough to project to the square’s far corners without blasting your eardrums. In this setting, I didn’t mind the little kids running around the square during the performance, and it’s nice to be able to see opera without dressing up – and with the option to pop into the Starbucks or the Jamba Juice on the square for a snack during intermission. (Though you couldn’t really do that this year, since Cruzar la Cara de la Luna is a one-act opera running at a lean 75 minutes.) The extra performances before and after the show by the likes of Ballet Folklórico Azteca were nice throw-ins, too. You don’t have to overwork your imagination to see these outdoor broadcasts being a great success in the future, as long as the weather cooperates