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NMSO concert review: del Aguila, ``Time and Again Barelas,'' Apr. 21, 2006

The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of Apr. 23, 2006.

NMSO hits mark with `Time and Again Barelas'

by Joanne Sheehy Hoover

At the end of last week, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus joined the Albuquerque Trincentennial celebration with Miguel del Aguila's opera Time and Again Barelas. Like Verdi's Aida, written in 1871 for the Cairo Opera House built as part of the Suez Canal opening festivities, and Cecil B. DeMille's epic 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, the project generated grand expectations. As Friday night's performance in Popejoy Hall evidenced, to a remarkable degree it fulfilled them.

For a symphony orchestra to launch such a project meant venturing where few, if any, of their like have dared to tread. Propelled by composer del Aguila's energy and NMSO director Guillermo Figueroa's enthusiasm, the NMSO met challenge after challenge along the way. These ranged from del Aguila's finishing the second act libretto alone to the assembling of a production team from scratch.

The concept of the opera, tracing the evolution of Albuquerque from its founding in Barelas to the present through encounters over the centuries between the star-crossed lovers Ignacio and Marcelina Barela, effectively kept the audience engaged.

As the scenes moved closer to the present, they increasingly reflected del Aguila's passions and compassion. A subtle human touch, for example, in the Vietnam war segment found an anxious mother weaving between protesters in search of her son as he returned from the conflict.

Subtlety veered into the didactic with the segment closing act one.

Recreating the first nuclear test at White Sands, it then shifted into the extended dying of a Japanese woman at Hiroshima. Admirable intent, but the whole scene pulled the audience far out of the opera.

Act two also made its points, including a 1950s scene about the discrimination against `coloreds and Mexicans' then prevalent in Albuquerque. But the opera stayed firmly anchored in its characters on through to the close as the two lovers, both of them now knowing, remembering and forgiving the past, unite.

Time and Again Barelas is del Aguila's third opera. It displayed his command of an arresting musical vocabulary that is marked by a complex yet infectious rhythmic vitality. It also showed how well he can exploit the possibilities of the slow tango to create some soulful music.

In mezzo-soprano Gabriela Garcia, del Aguila had an ideal Marcelina Barela. A tall, black-haired woman, Garcia possesses a strong musical intelligence and a vibrant, dark chocolate vocal quality that made her every solo thrilling.

The Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Dávila brought Ignacio to life with a solid, thoughtful interpretation both vocally and musically. Dr. Sina Aurelia “Sayid” Soul, as the escaped slave Marigold, was a vital stage presence and a vocal knockout with her jazzy solo that opened Act Two.

NMSO conductor Guillermo Figuero's musical direction was pointed and sympathetic. The chorus, superbly prepared by Roger Melone, had the opera's tricky rhythms and varied moods well in hand. David Vega Chavez's stage direction and choreography, with the exception of the confusing first scene, were imaginative and creatively adapted to the space.

And bundles of kudos go to the entire production team, particularly set designer Valeria Rios, lighting designer John Malolepsy and costume designer Lawrence F. Schultz, who made the stage a consistent visual pleasure. Placing the chorus behind a silhouette of the mountains which kept shifting in colors was only one of many gifted inspirations.

Next: NMSO concert review: Verdi, ``Requiem,'' Feb. 17, 2006
See also: New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus: schedule and reviews, 1995–2011
Previous: NMSOC at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival
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Last updated: 2006/04/26 15:01:24