San Diego Story review on the Opera Tijuana debut at Centro Estatal de las Artes.
By Ken Herman June 5, 2023
Joseph Martin Waters’ Vivid Contemporary Rock Opera Debuts at Tijuana’s Centro Estatal de las Artes
By Ken Herman | June 5, 2023 | 1 Joseph Martin Waters’ opera El Colibrí Mágico (The Magic Hummingbird) made its impressive staged premiere this weekend at Tijuana’s Centro Estatal de las Artes Foro Experimental. For an opera with a story that takes place on the border, crossing the International Border to experience this work seemed an appropriate prelude.
César Aguilar as Francisco [photo (c.) Amy Hecht]
This opera’s arrival on the stage has been an uncertain six-year journey. In the spring of 2017 in San Diego State University’s Smith Recital Hall, I saw a few semi-staged scenes from the opera’s first incarnation, St. Francis de los Barrios. By the spring of 2019, Waters had changed the opera’s title to El colibrí mágico, but he kept shards of its original plot as well as its central character Francisco, Waters’ 21st-century version of the visionary St. Francis. In the fall of 2019 Waters gave a semi-staged production of the first act of this new version of the opera at the Smith Recital Hall. We heard more songs and ensembles from El colibrí mágico presented in a club near the San Diego State campus in May of 2022, and the following month the entire opera was premiered in concert in New York City, a performance I was not able to experience. Although Waters calls his opera a fairy tale for adults, his story is grounded in the harsh political reality of refugees seeking asylum at the border of the United States and Mexico. When Francisco, Carla, and Franklin, exuberant young California rock musicians, travel to Tijuana to perform in a punk club, they encounter refugees stranded at the border. But when they attempt to help them cross, they are attacked by American skinheads commanded by a xenophobic elder call The Preacher. While this sounds like a story line from a noisy television adventure series, Francisco’s ecstatic visions of the beneficent Apollonia, the mystical goddess of music, and the ministrations of Elias, Francisco’s angelic spirit-guide, lift the opera to a more spiritual level. Over the years, Waters’ score has morphed from an edgy contemporary chamber opera to a full-blown rock opera. Although his score has retained the more compatible timbres of piano, flute and saxophone, the hard edge of drum kit, electric bass and two additional guitars now dominates and drives the score. His ever malleable vocal style still serves the drama well, with arched, soaring lines for Francisco, Apollonia, and Elias, contrasted by more conversational, pop-influenced vocal tunes for Carla and Franklin, not to mention the strident declamations of The Preacher.
Standing from left: Miguel Zarzueta & Charles Coleman; kneeling: Giovanni Delgado Ferreira; crow chorus behind chairs.[photo (c.) Amy Hecht]
No convincing opera plot is complete without a villain, and Charles Coleman, who appeared in one of Waters’ 2019 previews of the opera, gave the Preacher formidable menace, although more vocal allure from this gruff baritone would not have lessened his dramatic impact. I would have welcomed greater vocal contribution from the promising lyric baritone Giovanni Delgado Ferreira as the shaman Maggot, the undeserving object of the Preacher’s abuse. Philip Gomez, who has performed with San Diego’s Opera Neo and sang the role of Elias in a 2019 preview of Waters’ opera, skillfully employed his assertive countertenor as Flash in this production.
The dramatic command and gleaming vocal quality of Mexican-Canadian countertenor César Aguilar delivered a winning Francisco, and Aguilar persuasively embodied his character’s impassioned mystical awareness. In the role of Elias, which in an earlier version of the opera functioned as Francisco’s love interest, Miguel Zarzueta’s supple, rich tenor provided the perfect complement as Francisco’s angelic mentor. Because Karen Garcia has nurtured the role of Apollonia from the earliest stages of Waters’ opera, her magnetic stage presence and her creamy yet resonant soprano made her every apparition riveting. Tenor Justin Brill and mezzo-soprano Julia Waters as Franklin and Clara brought palpable teen angst and energy to their roles as Francisco’s aspiring musical accomplices, with the bright edge of Julia’s mezzo and her savvy take on popular vocal style successfully anchoring her character.
From left: Justin Brill, César Aguilar & Julia Waters [photo (c.) Amy Hecht]
César Aguilar & Karen Garcia [photo (c.) Amy Hecht]
Seven singers from the Opera de Tijuana, well trained by David Gardea, formed the effective vocal ensemble that served as a kind of Greek chorus that encouraged Francisco and added a touch of magic to his visionary experiences. A quartet of dancers appeared alternately as a flock of menacing crows and a cadre of gentle nymphs of the Plant Spirit realm. Like the obligatory ballet scenes from 19th-century grand opera, these dances directed by Matthew Armstrong added to the excitement of the presentation, even if they did not appear to be crucial to the dramatic narrative. Laura González designed costumes in casual contemporary styles that accented bright colors. Notable was her 1950s era flashy prom dress for Apollonia, although the Preacher’s robe made him appear incongruously like a low budget Methodist Choir Director. The clever crows’ black outfits and masks, however, proved both amusing and convincing. Minverva Jossif’s constantly changing multi-hued lighting design may have been too much of a good thing, but kudos to David Smith’s large and easily perceived supertitles–primarily in Spanish since most of the text was in English, but the supertitles switched to English when the dialogue turned to Spanish. Musical Director Richard Dueñez Morrison led his disparate musical resources with a steady hand, and, combined with Wilfred Paloma’s taut stage direction, the duo kept the opera’s dramatic pace vigorous. Paloma wisely used the theater’s generous space—essentially a high-ceilinged black box with bleacher seating at one end—by designing performance areas on different levels surrounding the two instrumental pods. This opera was staged by the Centro Estatal de las Artes (CEART), Opera de Tijuana, and the New West Evolving Arts and Music Organism at Tijuana’s CEART Foro Experimental on June 2 & 3, 2023. The performance of June 3 was experienced for this review.
Posted in MUSIC REVIEWS and tagged César Aguilar, Charles Coleman, Daniel Castro, David Gardea, David Smith, Giovanni Ferreira, Joseph Waters, Julia Waters, Justin Brill, Karen Garcia, Laura Gonzalez, Matthew Armstrong, Miguel Zazueta, Minerva Jossif, Phillip Gomez, Richard Dueñez Morrison, Wildred Paloma
Hummingbird”, como parte del XX Festival de Ópera en la Calle.
El Colibrí Mágico
(Un cuento de hadas para adultos, de Joseph M. Waters)
En el marco del XX Festival Ópera en la Calle
viernes 2 de junio y sábado 3 de junio / 7:00 pm
664 686 32 80
El Sol de Tijuana Tijuana Sun Tijuana.- El Colibrí Mágico or The Magic Hummingbird is a binational project whose world premiere will mark the start of the artistic program for the celebration of the XX Street Opera Festival this year 2023 in the city of Tijuana. María Teresa Riqué Jaime, director of the Tijuana Opera, stressed that the work is by the acclaimed composer Joseph Martin Waters, and was premiered at a concert held in New York on June 18, 2022.
Diario Tijuana TIJUANA , JUNE 1, 2023.- “El Colibrí Mágico” or “The Magic Hummingbird” is a binational project that will mark the beginning of the artistic program of the XX Street Opera Festival. The work written by the acclaimed composer Joseph Martin Waters, which was presented last year in New York, will now have two special presentations at the Experimental Forum of the State Center for the Arts (CEART) Tijuana, on Friday, June 2 and Saturday, June 3 at 7:00 p.m. This project is a co-production between the Ministry of Culture of Baja California, through CEART Tijuana, Fundación Ópera de Tijuana, NWEAMO and CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems, and UC San Diego. “This event is part of the Ópera en la Calle program, which this year is one of the beneficiaries of the call for the State Network of Festivals, through which 15 state groups will be supported,” explained Alma Delia Ábrego, head of the Ministry of Culture of Baja California.
*EXITOSO ARRANQUE DEL XX FESTIVAL ÓPERA EN LA CALLE CON EL ESTRENO DE “EL COLIBRÍ MÁGICO”* • El Colibrí Mágico del compositor Joseph Martin Waters inauguró el programa artístico rumbo al 8 de julio en la colonia Libertad Tijuana Baja California, a 06 de junio de 2023.- Con localidades agotadas y un público entusiasta que ovacionó de pie a los artistas, se llevó a cabo el estreno mundial de El Colibrí Mágico/ The Magic Hummingbird con el que la Ópera de Tijuana inauguró el programa especial por el XX Festival Ópera en la Calle. María Teresa Riqué Jaime, directora de la Ópera de Tijuana, informó que la Ópera se prepara para el gran evento del sábado 8 de julio en la calle 5ª. de la colonia Libertad donde se realizará el Festival Ópera en la Calle, que este 2023 celebra 20 años de su misión de acercar la ópera a todo tipo de públicos. “Estamos muy contentos y agradecidos por el recibimiento que dieron a El Colibrí Mágico, que tuvo casa llena y boletos agotados en sus dos presentaciones del viernes 2 y sábado 3 de junio en el Foro Experimental del Ceart Tijuana”, enfatizó. La obra, de la autoría del compositor Joseph Martin Waters, fue un proyecto que hizo comunidad entre artistas de ambos lados de la frontera, quienes sumaron sus talentos para presentar un espectáculo multidisciplinario que incluyó una combinación de música en vivo, ópera, danza, teatro y medios audiovisuales. Fue posible como una coproducción entre la Secretaría de Cultura de Baja California a través del CEART Tijuana, la Fundación OPERA DE TIJUANA, NWEAMO y CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems, UC San Diego. Incluyó artistas de Los Ángeles, San Diego, Tijuana, creativos y técnicos de la Ópera de Tijuana y del Centro Estatal de las Artes; en total 28 artistas en escena, solistas, coro, bailarines y un ensamble instrumental, que fueron bien recibidos por el público asistente que llegó de ambos lados de la frontera. Contó con la presencia de su creador, el compositor Joseph Martin Waters, de Richard Dueñez Morrison como director concertador, Wilfred Paloma, director escénico, David Gardea, director del coro y Matthew Armstrong, coreógrafo. Para mayor información sobre el XX Festival Ópera en la Calle invitaron a estar pendientes de la página de Facebook Ópera de Tijuana, donde en próximas fechas se estarán dando a conocer detalles del programa general. #art #arte #cultura #culture #opera #operasinger #Tijuana #bajacalifornia #mexico #sandiego #california
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