The announcement that the Fort Worth Opera was going to present a “mariachi opera” undoubtedly puzzled a lot of its patrons. To them, “mariachi” signifies a style of music usually heard in restaurants serving Mexican food.
Well, the Fort Worth Opera presented “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” on Saturday night in Bass Hall, and it was a real education. Far from being mere background music with a Spanish accent, this was the telling, with often highly appealing music, of a deeply sad yet ultimately uplifting story.
It seemed to carry a special punch for some in the audience. At least three people near me were in tears as the story progressed.
The message of the opera couldn’t have been more pertinent to our time. It’s the story of a Mexican family whose father is forced to emigrate to Texas to find work and who raises an American family after his wife dies in the desert trying to follow him across the border. The union of the two families, Mexican and American, forms the climax of the story.
The title “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna,” which means “To Cross the Face of the Moon,” refers to the annual migration of monarch butterflies south to Mexico. The story’s protagonist longs once again to see the sight of the butterflies crossing the moon at night.
The music of the opera is by the late José “Pepe” Martínez, with a bilingual libretto by Martínez and Leonard Foglia. There’s no confusion here: When the onstage spoken or sung language is Spanish, an English translation is projected above the stage; when the onstage language is English, the projected language is Spanish.
A troupe that’s highly regarded in Mexico, the 13-member Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, provides the music. The group includes traditional mariachi instruments — not only violins, trumpets and guitar, but also harp, vihuela and guitaron. Sometimes they form a singing chorus, as well.
A respectable group of singer-actors tell the story in spoken dialogue and sung arias and ensembles. Some of them obviously are at home in both mariachi style and conventional opera.
The impressive grandfather and head of both families is Octavio Moreno. Other cast members are Brian Shircliffe, Brittany Wheeler, Saúl Ávalos, Vanessa Alonzo, Cecilia Duarte, Daniel Montenegro and Juan Mejía.
The music director is Chía Patiño. Foglia is the man in charge of both staging and the simple but effective scenic design. Brian Nason and Chad R. Jung add significant value as the designer and director of lighting.
“Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” will be repeated May 7. It’s well worth a look and listen.
Fort Worth Opera Festival
- Cruzar la Cara de la Luna: 2 p.m. Sunday, Bass Hall, $17-$175
- Voir Dire: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, McDavid Studio; to inquire about ticket availability, call the box office.
- Carmen: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Bass Hall, $17-$195
- Frontiers: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, McDavid Studio, $10
- 817-731-0726; www.fwopera.org