There are few small towns with their own opera companies. There are even fewer small towns with an opera company that is brave enough to join traditional Mexican music together with opera to create a new artform, a mariachi opera.
The Visalia Opera Company has been in existence for over four years and has two fully staged operas under its belt. At 11am on November 15 in Oval Park in Visalia, the opera company will undertake “El Bracero,” an original opera written by Rosalinda Verde and co-directed by the company’s musical director, Elisha Wilson, and musical director of Mariachi de Uclatlán, Miguel Pasillas.
It was the world’s first mariachi opera, a San Diego Opera production, “A Cruzar la Cara de la Luna,” that inspired Verde to apply for a Fresno Regional Foundation grant to create a mariachi opera.
“I cannot express what the San Diego Opera house felt like after the curtain fell,” Verde said. “The audience leapt to its feet, crying and applauding. Their opera told an immigrant’s story, and it touched so many, the connection to the message and the characters was palpable. You knew every person in that audience had their own version; their own narrative that they carried in their heart. Mariachi Vargas inspired the world to blend these two art forms together, the art of opera and mariachi.”
The mariachi group accompanying the opera hails from UCLA. The group Mariachi de Uclatlán is directed by Redwood High School alum Miguel Pasillas.
The story line for “El Bracero” recounts the time of the bracero program, which allowed Mexican nationals to take temporary agricultural work in the United States. Over the program’s 22-year life, more than 4.5 million Mexican nationals were legally contracted for work in the U.S., taking jobs at wages scorned by most Americans. The entire piece is based on true stories of family and friends of Verde.
“My grandfather was badly burnt in a gas station accident,” said Verde. “Because he was so severely injured and melted, my grandfather sent his children out to the fields to make a living. My mom’s grandfather was a manager of the field workers; he had a huge heart and always gave to the men who worked in the camp. My friend Noelvia’s father was a bracero, and the inspiration for the story. He fell in love at first sight and came to the United States to make a living so he could support the love of his life.”
These stories are not just the stories of immigrants from Mexico. Families unite us, miracles happen, and love overcomes all.
The opera is accompanied with translations, and Ballet Folklorico Oro de Mexico will perform. Events will start at 11am with face painting, live interactive art provided by the Urbanist Artist Collective, youth games by Pro Youth Heart and free menudo for the first 100 guests.
That evening, VOC singers and Mariachi Azul de Acero will present a concert at the Cellar Door from 6:30-9:30pm. All ages are welcome. Tickets are $12 and available at ticketweb.com. For more information, call 627-6825.