What do a professional opera company and an award-winning mariachi band have in common? They’re uniting in North Las Vegas this month to widen perceptions of Hispanic music.
Opera Las Vegas and College of Southern Nevada’s Mariachi Plata will perform side by side during “Celebración Latina: A Mariachi Fiesta” starting at 3 p.m. on Feb. 18 in the college’s Nicholas J. Horn Theatre.
Think of it as “a cultural celebration,” said Opera Las Vegas General Director Jim Sohre, describing the 75-minute concert as a festive mingling of Latin music, including traditional mariachi (Spanish folk music) and Zarzuela (Spanish operetta).
The concert will provide “a glimpse into some of the cultural underpinnings of” and commonalities between these music styles, said Sohre, predicting that many people in the audience will be exposed to something new, since opera fans and mariachi lovers aren’t necessarily one and the same.
“We wanted to put a program on that not only brought operatic type singing to our usual patrons but also exposed them to mariachi …. [and] to expose people who like mariachi to operatic singing,” he said. “Mostly, we want them to enjoy the wonderful sounds of Hispanic-flavored music.”
A panorama of Latin music
Along with traditional mariachi hits and other Spanish songs, the narrated program will showcase music from the contemporary opera “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”) by the late composer and violinist José “Pepe” Martínez and playwright Leonard Foglia.
Considered the first-ever mariachi opera, “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” follows the emotional story of a Mexican husband and father who immigrates to America to support the family he left behind in Michoacán. It was a smash hit when it debuted in 2010, blending the sounds of a mariachi trio with a full opera orchestra.
Musicians will also perform a romantic love duet and dramatic scene from the modern Spanish opera ”Zorro” by Chicano composer Hector Armienta. The swashbuckling adventure captures the romance, action, and humor of the story of masked vigilante Diego de la Vega as he stands up for the poor and downtrodden in 1800s Los Angeles (when it was still a Spanish colony).
Additionally, there will be operatic tributes to beloved opera stars like Placido Domingo, Montserrat Caballe, and Jose Carreras.
“There are many famous Zarzuelas and any number of Hispanics that have become famous opera stars,” said Sohre. “There are also many living contemporary composers contributing to this art form.”
Among the cast, the fiesta will feature nationally acclaimed soloists Oriana Falla (soprano), Pauline ‘Ofe Tamale (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Montenegro (tenor), and Manuel Arellano (pianist) along with a special appearance by the Opera Las Vegas Youth Chorus, under the leadership of Concert Master Athena Mertes.
Mariachi Plata will be led by renowned Mariachi vocalist and guitarrón artist Perry Chacón, Jr.
A harmonious collaboration
“Celebración Latina” marks the third Latin festival for Opera Las Vegas, but the first time the company has worked with Mariachi Plata.
Comprised of 17 students from CSN’s music program, Mariachi Plata debuted in 2019 and is already among the country’s finest college mariachi bands. Under the direction of founders Guadalupe and Fernando Gonzales, the fledgling band won the prestigious Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza Competition–widely considered the national championship of collegiate mariachi–for the past two years.
The nonprofit Opera Las Vegas is Nevada’s only professional company member of Opera America. Now in its 25th season, the company aims to further the love of opera in Southern Nevada through performances, training, and education. A repeat recipient of a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, the company’s cultural programs are supported by a Nevada Humanities grant.
Now that Opera Las Vegas and Mariachi Plata are combining forces, Sohre is optimistic that the relationship will grow.
“We hope this might be the seed, the beginning of a collaboration, where we can do a [full] mariachi opera,” he said.
Celebración Latina: A Mariachi Fiesta takes place at 3 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at the College of Southern Nevada, 3200 E Cheyenne Ave, North Las Vegas. Tickets are $10-$40. For information, visit the Opera Las Vegas website.
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