Review: “El Pasado Nunca se Termina” – Mariachi Opera Comes Roaring Back to San Diego Opera – April 25, 2015

Two years ago, the most wildly enthusiastic, cheering, vociferous happy audience I’ve seen in the 50-year history of the San Diego Opera (I’ve attended since Day One) greeted Mexican composer Jose “Pepe” Martinez’ opera performed by the Mariachi Vargas De Tescalitlan band. [See my previous review at Operatic mariachi: “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” – San Diego Opera, March 16, 2013.]

[Below: the San Diego Opera poster for El Pasado Nunca se Termina; resized image, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]


Many of us urged the San Diego Opera to bring back for more, and they’re baaaack! The same composer, mariachi band and crew returned to present the opera “El Pasado Nunca se Termina [The Past is Never Finished]” – with the cast and production that appeared earlier this year at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

[Below: Jose “Pepe” Martinez, composer of “El Pasado Nunca se Termina”; edited image, based on a publicity photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Highlighting this production were many superb singers bringing with them much experience from venues all over the world, with some having come up “the ranks” of American Young Artists programs.

These included San Francisco Opera’s former Adler Fellow, tenor Daniel Montenegro (fabulous as Luis and garnering a great ovation.)

[Below: Tenor Daniel Montenegro sang the role of Luis; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]

daniel_montenegro (400)

Lyric Opera of Chicago Ryan Center alumnus, baritone Paul LaRosa (presenting a very forceful show as Enrique). Former Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Artist Abigail Santos Villalobos was Luis’ girlfriend Amorita, receiving an audience ovation.

A standout was Luis Ledesma playing the role of the old patriarch Augustino . Ledesma’s father performed mariachi during Luis’ youth, so he grew to love it, to which he certainly adds his lustre.

Describing the Opera

The San Diego Opera best describes this 90-minute, one-act opera: “In May 1910 Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky and many believe it foretold the upheaval that was to come. It was one the eve of the Mexican Revolution and a smoldering restlessness, fueled by poverty, permeated the country.

[Below: Luis (Daniel Montenegro, right) kisses Amorita (Abigail Santo Villalobos); edited image, based on a Todd Rosenberg photograph, courtesy of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.]

05_Santos_Villalobos_Montenegro_EL_PASADO_LYR150328_241_cTodd_Rosenberg (425)

Peasants became reolutionaries who sought to reclaim land that had been theirs for centuries. As cultures clash, conflicts boil to the surface with some citizens striving to change the face of Mexico, while others became the face of the American dream, both impacting generations to come.”

The 12 piece Vargas Mariachi band was on stage, dressed in traditional Mariachi black-with-silver trim, giant sombrero hats, reading a score as in any opera, with their conductor also on stage off-center. There were six traditional violins, three guitars (including a guitaron and a vihuela), a Mexican string bass, a harp, and two brass pieces often “choked”, making them sound like a clarinet.

Also, as in 2013, this was indeed an opera, with much acting, solos, duets, quartets, excellent dance sequences, stage props, costumes – in short, all that’s what opera is all about!

[Below: a scene from the Lyric Opera of Chicago production of “El Pasado Nunca se Termina” that was performed by the San Diego Opera; edited image of a Todd Rosenberg photograph, courtesy of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.]


And WOW!!! What sensational sound they created. A full, traditional opera orchestra would sound tame compared to this. The house literally rocked – and rollicked! This is Mariachi at its bests -and lucky me has often heard and seen mariachi music in Mexico, most recently earlier this year in Cozumel, Riviera Maya and Cancun.

Composer Martinez’ “El Pasado” is a very traditional opera strongly in the tradition of Western classic opera, certainly suggesting Puccini and Verdi in many of the solo numbers as well as musical accompaniment.

Yet is was classic Mariachi. When the performers let go full blast, the audience went wild roaring their approval. (Me too!)

As with the “Cruzar” performance in 2013, in the fountained plaza in front of the San Diego Civic Theater (where San Diego Opera thrives once again after a bumpy ride in early 2014), we were all treated both before and after the opera in a spectacularly festive Mexican scene .

There was Mariachi music galore, dazzling , colorful giga-maitais and mega-margaritas, making for a super warmup for the Mariachi goodies inside the Civic Auditorium for this sell-out crowd.


“El Posada”, which had been seen earlier this year at Lyric Opera of Chicago, travels next to the Houston Grand Opera for performances on May 13, 16 and 17, 2015.

On the basis of the performances in San Diego, I recommend i”El Posada Nunca se Termina”  to Houston audiences, who will see it this May, with great enthusiasm!