Eighteen months since its last in-person performance, Arizona Opera returned to the Temple of Music and Art stage on Saturday with the mariachi opera “El Milagro del Recuerdo” (The Miracle of Remembering).
It was, indeed, a stroll down memory lane.
Saturday night reminded us of some of the things that we have been missing since the last time Arizona Opera performed March 8, 2020.
When the mariachi trio — Vincent Pequeño on guitar, William C. Galvez on guittaron and Israel Alcala on vihuela — came on stage one by one and started playing, we were reminded about how good it felt to gather in the TMA with nearly every seat occupied and see live theater.
As the curtain came up and the orchestra in the pit added their voices to the mariachi, we felt that familiar flutter of excitement we always have at the beginning of every opera, the anticipation of what lies beyond those opening chords and where it will lead us.
We will never take that for granted again.
“El Milagro” is a 75-minute, one-act Christmastime opera with a pretty simple premise: family and remembering what that means and appreciating the obstacles that stand in the way of being together.
It’s a prequel of sorts of the first mariachi opera Arizona Opera premiered in 2014, reuniting the characters in a story that foreshadowed the immigration story we saw in “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (To Cross the Face of the Moon).
Laurentino (baritone Octavio Moreno) and Chucho (bass Miguel de Aranda) have returned home to Michoacán from working in the United States just in time for Christmas.
The pair surprise their wives — Renata (sung by mezzo-soprano Cecelia Duarte) and Lupita (soprano Vanessa Alonzo) — as they are rehearsing the annual pastorela. Lupita is excited to see Chucho, who brings her a dress from America. But Renata unloads guilt onto Laurentino, asking him if he remembers when their son, Rafael (Armand Delgado), took his first steps. No you don’t, she quips in song, because you weren’t here.
With the help of what can best be described as an angel in white (the stunning soprano Zulimar López-Hernandez), Laurentino begins remembering the little moments in his life with Renata. And although it doesn’t change his mind about returning to the States after the holidays, it brings him closer to his family and helps Renata to better understand his motives of wanting to provide for his family.
Composer Javier Martinez, son of the late “Cruzar” composer Pepe Martinez, blends classic pop with his mariachi, especially evident in the spirited duet with de Aranda and Alonzo “Una Chica Americana” (American Girl),” during which he proposes the family emigrate to America.
Arizona Opera was supposed to present “El Milagro” last season, but COVID got in the way. And in some ways, that turned out to be a gift.
With everything we experienced over the past 18 months — separation, anxiety, uncertainty and the desperate desire for reuniting with loved ones we couldn’t see because of the pandemic — “El Milagro” resonated on a much more personal level for all of us.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Starburch