America Tropical was composed by David Conte with libretto by Oliver Mayer. “..ambitious opera premiere connects L. A.’s divided past to a hopeful future…an often compelling folk opera meditation on race, class, and other social divisions…engaging and intriguing…- Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle.
In 1932, Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros came to Los Angeles and painted the mural known as La America Tropical. Its subject matter was so controversial that its central image of a crucified Indian was painted out and effectively silenced. Exploring themes of exonomic and political inequality this opera follows Siqueiros as he paints and tells the tumultuous tale of the history of Los Angeles, from its founding in 1781 to the 1992 insurrection. His creation also comes to life with its own voice, opinions and hopes – just as the image in the actual mural has begun to ghost through, refusing to be silenced.
Funding was provided by USC’s Vision and Voices program and the Autry National Center.
Performance – Saturday, November 3rd
Cast and Crew
Maria Katherine Giaquinto
India Lori Stinson
Camero Michael Bannett
Lara Matthew Miles
Navarro Scott Levin
Holliday Cedric Berry
Siqueiros Gregorio González
Moreno Ashley Faatoalia
Director – Nathan Singh
Music Director – Ryan Zwahlen
Stage Manager – Rose-Yvonne Colletta
Répétiteur- Kanae Matsumoto
Orchestra – members of The Definiens Project
Flute – Diana Morgan
Clarinet – Jennifer Stevenson
Violin – Marisa Kuney
Cello – Dave Mergen
Bass – Stephen Pfeiffer
Piano – Jeanette Louise Yaryan
Clips from our 2010 performance at USC.
“… an ingenious tale dealing with the tumultuous founding of Los Angeles, using a 1930s mural painted by David Alfaro Siquieros in the 1930s as its take-off point… with its emotionally gripping music, timely story and clever, often surprising, staging, it certainly merits a second run.
- Cheryl North, Oakland Tribune
“..ambitious opera premiere connects L. A.’s divided past to a hopeful future…an often compelling folk opera meditation on race, class, and other social divisions…engaging and intriguing…
- Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle
“Conte (whose beautiful, ghostly desert opera Firebird Motel was commissioned and produced by Thick Description) has fashioned a score featuring serrated melody lines and lush choral harmonies to augment the work’s three centuries, succinctly blended in Mayer’s libretto. The music moves determinedly forward through alternately agitated, wistful, angelic, and angry passages…”
- Robert Avila, The San Francisco Bay Area Guardian
Conte’s score, with its hints of George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and the chamber music of Dmitri Shostakovich, is as colorful as anything painted by Siqueiros. The composer’s use of glittering flute scales… (enthralls) the listener with its beauty…”
- Chloe Veltman, San Francisco Weekly
Scene One – The Torna Atras (The Throw-Aways)
Los Angeles, 1932. The Mexican muralist SIQUEIROS surveys a blank wall that will become the canvas for his latest artwork “America Tropical.” (Tell Me What A Wall Can Do…”) As he wonders how the as-yet uncreated images will reflect not only the past history but the future of Los Angeles and its citizens, –
The original POBLADORES (Founders) of the City arrive, circa 1781, at the last leg of a 1,000 mile journey, (We’ve Come A Thousand Miles…) and begin to build their settlement. The Spaniard LARA and the Indian MARIA SOLEDAD, ask for the blessing of the Virgin Mary, but Maria Soledad’s husband Black carpenter MORENO questions their faith. Lara and Moreno differ on the casta system, the taxonomy that categorizes a person based on the percentage of Spanish blood in his family (From Spanish and Indian a Mestiza is Born…). As the battles lines between them are drawn, –
Scene Two – The Double Cross
Siqueiros begins to create his image, using themes and images from 1781. As he works, –
HOLLIDAY appears, circa 1991, video handycam in hand, in South Los Angeles. (Catch The Moments Before They Go Wherever Moments Go…) Now all three time periods begin to meld. As Siqueiros propositions Maria Soledad, Lara and his henchmen arrest and beat Moreno in front of the Cross he built to honor the founding of the City. Holliday uses his handycam to witness the attack, which resembles the beating of Rodney King. Refusing the advances of Siqueiros, Maria Soledad approaches Moreno, who cannot understand why he was beaten. (Were You There When They Beat Me To The Ground?) As all their faith is tested, –
Scene Three – Twelve Minutes
Holliday, circa 1992, muses over the twelve minutes of evidence of the videotaped beating and its consequences on the entire city. As Los Angeles burns, the citizens of Los Angeles, past and future, come together to reaffirm their beliefs (We Believe A Good Life is Possible on Earth). But Moreno cannot put his faith in organized belief or progress. Siquerios, working feverishly, now reveals the full “America Tropical” mural with an INDIA crucified upon a Double Cross, for everyone to see. Moreno sees a symbol of his own pain. But Maria Soledad sees the blessing, even in the symbolism. As she prays to it, the India comes to life and blesses the citizens of Los Angeles (Blessings on this City/Blessings on this Life).
Scene Four – The Sweet Inside
Given new life, Maria Soledad tells Siqueiros that his mural has missed the heart of the people. Taking the aspect of the Virgin Mary, she helps the India off the Cross. The people of Los Angeles come together with a new understanding of their limitations and possibilities. As Siqueiros moves on, and his mural is destroyed, the People reaffirm their lives and loves. as citizens, here and now (Reprise: From Spanish and Indian a Mestiza is Born). Maria Soledad has the last word: (We Live Here and Now).Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5