Director and playwright Leonard Foglia was surprised to learn that the Lyric Opera of Chicago had never performed a full work sung in Spanish in its 59-year history -- that is, until the company performed "Cruzar la Cara de la Luna" ("To Cross the Face of the Moon") this past April 7 featuring the famed band Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan.
"It's kind of astonishing, isn't it?" said Foglia, who is director and librettist on "Cruzar" with composer José "Pepe" Martínez. Yet Foglia admits that there are very few Spanish operas or operettas (known as zarzuelas) in the standard operatic repertoire, so a new hybrid work like "Cruzar" can help fill that void.
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"Cruzar la Cara de la Luna" ("To Cross the Face of the Moon")Locations: Benito Juárez Community Academy, 1450-1510 W. Cermak Road, Chicago; and Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan; (800) 982-2787 (Waukegan show only) or lyricopera.org.
Showtimes: In Chicago: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 19, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20. In Waukegan: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21
Tickets: $5 in Chicago (currently sold out, but turnbacks may become available); $5-$18 in Waukegan
Billed as "the world's first mariachi opera," "Cruzar" continues performances with the band Mariachi Aztlán this weekend at the Benito Juárez Community Academy in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood and at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan as part of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Lyric Unlimited initiative.
"Cruzar" was originally commissioned by Lyric general director Anthony Freud when he was running Houston Grand Opera. Its 2010 Texas premiere was timed to coincide with the double anniversaries of the bicentennial of Mexico's Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.
"It's on a subject that resonates with all of us," Freud said about Foglia's original story that deals with immigration and displacement. "It's about a family divided across countries and across generations, and it's an exploration of home."
While "Cruzar" was created in large part to reach out to Mexican-American communities, Foglia said a big test of the work came when it opened the 2011-12 season at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
"That was fascinating because they don't have the immediacy of the Mexican-American situation here," Foglia said. "They took it more as a universal story."
Indeed, Foglia was told that after a Paris dress rehearsal, an immigrant Croatian nanny employed by an opera administrator was in tears, saying, "This is my story."
"What I believe is that it's our responsibility to reach with our work as many people as possible from as diverse a range of communities as possible," said Freud, talking about "Cruzar" as part of the Lyric Unlimited initiative.
As for Foglia, he hopes "Cruzar" will be staged in Mexico soon. But for now, he's happy that the work has come full-circle in a sense now that he and composer Martínez are working again with Freud, this time in Chicago and Waukegan.