The Magic Hummingbird – El Colibrí Mágico
The opera, set in the present on the San Diego-Tijuana border, is a reprise of the Saint Francis story: a privileged youth who gives up a comfortable life for his spiritual quest. The opera’s protagonist is Francisco, a rising young San Diego rock musician who travels with his two close friends, band members Franklin and Clara, to perform at a punk club in Tijuana.
On their journey, these San Diego-based rock musicians meet Elias, the leader of a group of refugees who have traveled north through Mexico from Central America, seeking asylum in the United States. The story’s magical realism will convey the refugees across the border by way of a magic tunnel, the body of a giant snake buried thousands of years ago by the goddess of the moon. Elias and Francisco become lovers, and Francisco evolves from a spaced out, irresponsible youth into a compassionate leader who is willing to risk his life to help the refugees.
Lying in wait for Francisco and the refugees on the U.S. side of the border, however, is a white separatist militia cult that practices spirit possession, speaking in tongues, and virtuoso drumming. The cult is led by a mad sociopath, The Preacher, and his musical henchman Maggot, Franklin’s father, a damaged, ambivalent shaman who has tried to raise his son Franklin while battling his own internal demons and drug addiction. Maggot, however, has true magic powers: he is able to understand the language of the crows.
The Preacher and Franklin learn from the Lord of the Crows that the refugees and the trio of Francisco, Franklin, and Clara will be showing up through this magic tunnel. The Preacher shows up with the militia to ambush them, but it’s a set up.The refugees and the trio had emerged the day before.
Water that was placed at the tunnel exit for the refugees was destroyed, so the refugees are transformed into a family of saguaro cactuses, standing on a Mesa overlooking the ravine. Furious that the refugees are not appearing while his militia awaits them, The Preacher demands that Maggot shoot at a solitary crow perched on the arm of one of the saguaros. Hundreds of crows suddenly emerge from behind the saguaros, and in the melee that follows between the crows and the militia, a giant clap of thunder announces from the mouth of the cave the entrance of Ixazaluoh, the plant spirit in the form of a playful young girl that has haunted Francisco’s visions since childhood. Ignoring the militia, she chases a hummingbird up onto the Mesa, and around the saguaros casts an imaginary protective garment over them.
Above the saguaros, fierce thunderheads suddenly form, and when the frustrated Preacher angrily shoots his AR-15 at the clouds, they burst, drenching the saguaros. Quenched, they transform back into humans, but a flash flood roars through the ravine and washes the militia and The Preacher into the magic tunnel.
In the flood, Maggot manages to scale up on the ravine where he finds his son Franklin, now transformed back into human form, who pulls his father to safety. The following morning, the refugees and the trio find the abandoned pickups of the militia, keys left in the ignition, and escape into the heartland.
In addition to the real issues of the perils faced by refugees, the opera’s message is the need for compassion and forgiveness.