[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ariachi is the heart and soul of Mexico. When one thinks of mariachi, they envision family parties, tequila induced laughter and the sound of that high pitched note of the violin that sparks an emotion that is both heart wrenching and joyful. For some, it is a tradition that should not be messed with…unless, of course, it is done in a respectful manner. That is exactly what Jose “Pepe” Martinez and collaborator Leonard Foglia did when they decided to merge two genres with a wide following to create the world’s first Mariachi Opera.
Foglia and Martinez, who performed “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (To Cross the Face of the Moon) at Chicago’s Civic Opera House in 2013, are back with a brand new story to tell, “El Pasado Nunca se Termina.” This time the story focuses on the eve of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. It tells the story of two families who find their lives entwined in a way that will impact future generations. The cast of the show was joined by the celebrated 13-piece ensemble, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, for the world premiere at the Civic Opera House of “El Pasado Nunca se Termina” in Chicago back on March 29.
Vanessa Cerdo Alonzo, who plays Juana, said she understands why people would be confused upon hearing the term Mariachi Opera. “People wouldn’t think it’s a great fusion but it really is. The fusion is just so beautiful because they both tell stories with songs. Mariachi is so passionate and so full of color and so is opera,” she said.
Alonzo was part of M.E.C.C.A., Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts and it was through that organization that her love of music began to grow. She was recommended for the Houston Grand Opera and has now been performing mariachi music for 19 years. “I’m very glad because that organization opened doors for me,” she said.
Having traveled all over the world for the performance, Alonzo stated that a lot of the reception is similar but one of the most memorable experiences was in Paris. “The audience there was so diverse. They would come backstage after the performance and they would say, ”This story that you told was my story,” and those applauses were like six to ten minutes long and it was beautiful.”
Luis Ledesma plays Agustino Almada, a rich man who travels to Mexico from Spain with his French wife Isabel. “His wife is one of those upper class European women who sees Mexico as very ugly. My character is very focused on his pride. He is also very proud of the fact that he has the ability to take care of his family.”
Although the story takes place around the time of the Mexican Revolution, the themes are said to resonate with contemporary audiences as it also tells the story of the poor being abused by the wealthy.
Ledesma has an extensive background as an established international singer and has performed in famous venues like Madison Square Gardens and the Hollywood Bowl. Nevertheless, he was excited to perform alongside Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan. “When I was told they were going to be performing with them, I kind of got into hysterics. They have given such strong performances that when you listen to it, it feels as though your heart is about to break,” he said.
Alonzo said that if there’s anything the audience took with them at the end of the landmark performance, it’s the hope that they never forget who they are. “Review your past, your history. I think it’s always important to know who you are and where you come from.”
The groundbreaking show is currently touring the nation, with the next performance of “El Pasado Nunca se Termina” set for April 25 the San Diego Civic Theatre in San Diego, California.
This post is also available in: Spanish