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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Cruzar la Cara de la LunaMinnesota Opera
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's review of Life Sucks

(foreground) Daniel Montenegro and Vanessa Alonzo,
with Cecilia Duarte, Octavio Moreno, and Cast

Photo by Dan Norman
Minnesota Opera has launched its 2023-2024 season with the beautifully wrought Cruzar la Cara de la Lune (To Cross the Face of the Moon), billed as the first mariachi opera to be staged in the state. That descriptor, "mariachi opera," while accurate, should not be seen in any manner to diminish the emotive strength of its book by Leonard Foglia nor the sweep of its score, by José "Pepe" Martinez. Martinez, who died in 2016, was a major figure in the world of mariachi music, starting his own mariachi band at the age of twelve and rising as a renowned performer, conductor and composer. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera as the first-ever mariachi opera. It premiered to acclaim in 2010. Leonard Foglia, an accomplished librettist as well as a director of theatre and opera, collaborated with Martinez on the lyrics, along with creating the book.

Cruzar la Cara de la Lune begins in 2010, with Laurentino as a seventy-five-year-old man who is dying. Laurentino came to the United States from Mexico as a young man to earn money for his wife Renata and son Rafael back home. He had never meant to stay, but life had other plans for him. Renata died while attempting to join her husband in America and Rafael has since bitterly spurned his father, whom he blames for his mother's death. Laurentino began a new life in Texas, where he is being lovingly cared for by his son Mark and granddaughter Diana.

Mark picks up a guitar and soothes his father by playing a traditional song his father sang to him as a child. Diana notes that her father had never played the song for her, a signifier of the erosion of cultural heritage from one generation to the next. Diana is trying to track down Rafael to let him know that his father is dying and has been calling out for him. Perhaps it is not too late for them to reconcile. Mark, however, is ambivalent about connecting with his half-brother, whom he only recently had learned about.

In flashbacks we see: Laurentino begin his life with Renata; his choice to go north in order to earn more money; Renata's misery with Laurentino gone most of the time, followed by her decision to make the dangerous journey to join him in "el norte"; Laurentino's grief upon losing Renata and being spurned by Rafael; and Laurentino's later attempt to bridge his estrangement with his now adult first-born son. In a particularly heartrending scene, Renata appears to Rafael as a vision, urging him to set aside his bitterness and turn to forgiveness. The opera–which packs all of this narrative into just one act, ends with Laurentino being granted his wish to be brought home to Mexico and buried in the land he still calls home, with his splintered family at last united.

There are brief spoken scenes between most arias, duets, and choral pieces, rather than a sung recitative, so the production gives credits for its lyricists and bookwriter, rather than for a librettist. While that may imply that Cruzar la Cara de la Lune is closer to musical theatre than opera (and there is truth in the notion that lines between the two can blur), Cruzar la Cara de la Lune is rightly identified as an opera owing to the weight the sung elements carry in propelling the narrative and in revealing the swell of feelings within each character's heart.

Indeed, the lyrics and musical composition of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna goes further to advance the opera's compelling story and reveal characters than do many acclaimed operas that are completely sung but devote a large percentage of the vocalizing on variations of a single line or phrase, displaying the composer's and the singer's gifts, but doing nothing to shed more light on the character or the conflict at hand.

The Minnesota Opera Orchestra plays the mariachi score with attention to the emotional nuance of each scene, from festive to despairing. Conductor David Hanlon was commissioned to create a full orchestration for the Minnesota Opera Orchestra, so every instrument in the orchestra is at the service of the mariachi sound. Three musicians playing traditional mariachi instruments, and costumed accordingly, are on stage throughout the production, usually on a balcony level that overlooks the main action, occasionally mingling with the rest of the cast, as at the wedding celebration. It all sounds wonderful, casting out tremendous vitality.

Octavio Moreno brings a beautiful baritone voice to the central role of Laurentino, able to convey the gusto and enthusiasm of a young man starting out on what he expects to be a bountiful life, to the anguish of loss of his loved ones, to the calming resolution of seeing his life become whole at last. Cecilia Duarte is stunning as Renata, her mezzo-soprano fully expressing the character's blend of determination and tenderness. Moreno and Duarte both originated their roles when Cruzar la Cara de la Luna premiered in 2010, so their insights into these characters and delivery of authoritative performances are well earned.

As Mark, Efraín Solis' tenor conveys a brooding attitude, as he worries over his father's failing health while resisting a reunion between his father and the Mexican half-brother he has never known. Zulimar López-Hernández brings a brightness to her portrayal of Diana, beautifully singing the soprano part, expressing pure love for her grandfather and a desire to help him find peace as his life comes to its end. Efraín Corralejo, currently a Minnesota Opera Resident Artist, uses his smooth tenor to depict the torn emotions Rafael feels toward his father, whom he identifies as the cause of his mother's death.

Vanessa Alonzo, as Renata's friend Lupita, also repeats a role she created for the premiere of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. Alonzo has a strong presence and is especially moving in a poignant duet with Duarte's Renata. Mateo Huber, playing Rafael as a child, conveys the boy's innocence and vulnerability. Daniel Montenegro as Laurentino's friend and Lupita's husband Chucho and Isaac Quiroga as Victor, the coyote who leads Renata and young Rafael into the desert, complete the outstanding principal cast. The Minnesota Opera Chorus, directed by Celeste Marie Johnson, provide vocal power and the abundant humanity in the Mexican community lost to Laurentino.

Stage director David Radamés Toro moves the action back and forth in time and place with clarity, making for seamless transitions. The physical production is a delight, boosted by Arnulfo Maldonado's scene and costume designs, Carolina Ortiz Herrera's lighting design, C. Andrew Mayer's sound design, and co-designers Wendy Zarate Frank and Emma Gustafson's work on wigs, hair and make-up. A large bright moon casts its light on the action; it is the same moon over the span of decades, over Mexico and Texas, providing a point of stability and commonality that unifies the narrative and characters.

Because the story takes place both in Mexico and the United States, its characters ranging from Mexican immigrant to third generation Mexican-American, the lyrics and dialogue pivot between English and Spanish. When Spanish is used on stage, the supertitles above the proscenium are in English, and when English is used on stage, the supertitles are in Spanish, making this a truly bilingual production.

Though Cruzar la Cara de la Luna is a one-act opera, the evening is extended with an hour-long fiesta in the Ordway's elegant atrium, featuring more live mariachi music, food, and art installations.

With Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, Minnesota Opera brings a new sound to its repertoire, one that may enable the company to reach an untapped community within the Twin Cities. It delivers a beautifully rendered production of an opera that tells a deeply moving and important story, one that has been repeated, in one variation or another, in the reality of untold numbers of immigrants who pay dearly for the better lives they seek in America.

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, presented by Minnesota Opera, runs through November 12, 2023, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington Street, Saint Paul MN. For tickets and information, please call 612-333-6699 or visit

Music: José "Pepe" Martinez; Lyrics: José "Pepe" Martinez and Leonard Foglia; Book: Leonard Foglia; Conductor: David Hanlon; Stage Director: David Radamés Toro; Scenic and Costume Design: Arnulfo Maldonado; Lighting Design: Carolina Ortiz Herrera; Sound Design: C. Andrew Mayer; Wig, Hair and Make-Up Design: Wendy Zarate Frank and Emma Gustafson; Intimacy Director: Eric "Pogi Sumangil; Head of Music and Assistant Conductor: Mario Antonio Marra; Principal Coach and Chorus Director: Celeste Marie Johnson; Répétiteur: Erica Guo; Assistant Stage Director: Margaret Jumonville; Stage Manager: Keri Muir.

Cast: Vanessa Alonzo (Lupita), Efraín Corralejo (Rafael), Cecilia Duarte (Renata), Mateo Huber (young Rafael), Zulimar López-Hernández (Diana), Daniel Montenegro (Chucho), Octavio Moreno (Laurentino), Isaac Quiroga (Victor), Efraín Solis (Mark).