Opera may have been around since the 16th century, but the team at Opera Cultura feel it’s time for an update.
Cuentos de Peregrinacion or Tales of Pilgrimage is a new hybrid show that combines operatic singing with staged readings that tell of immigrants’ experiences coming to the United States.
Hector Armienta, artistic director at Opera Cultura, says he wanted to get his community involved, so he decided to showcase true stories gathered from interviews in San Jose and around the Mexico Border.
Fittingly for its subject matter, Cuentos is directed by Kinan Valdez of El Teatro Campesino, the company founded by Luis Valdez to help tell the story of local farmworkers.
The production, conducted by concert pianist Temirzhan Yerzhanov, features performances by tenor Mark Hernandez, soprano Alexandra Sessler and mezzo soprano Guadalupe Peraza.
Preceding the performance of each song, a member from San Jose’s community reads the story or stories that inspired the piece. In that way, Cuentos is not an opera in the traditional sense as it doesn’t have singing from beginning to end.
“Our goal is to redefine what opera is and to make it accessible to contemporary audiences,” Armienta says. The show features seven original songs including “Voy al Norte (I Go to the North)” and “Trabajamos en el Campo (Working in the Fields).”
“Voy al Norte” took inspiration from two interviews of people who had to leave their families behind in Mexico.
“The first interview was with a woman that had to leave her little girl behind in hopes that she would be able to one day get back to Mexico,” Armienta says. “The second interview was with a man who left his girlfriend in Mexico with the intention of going back, but later decided he was not going to return.”
Armienta hopes this show will unite San Jose’s communities.
“Most folks in this country are immigrants and we all have tales or stories that are our source of strength and inspiration,” Armienta says. “I want to educate and share stories not only within the community of Spanish-speakers, but also those within the community that are born here, like myself, so that we remember our history and the sacrifices of our families.”
He says the goal of this show is to tell the stories from the people of his community and support cultural understanding among the people of San Jose.