Opera Colorado's world premiere of Robert Xavier Rodriguez's "La Curandera" is a revelation. Rodriguez's inventive score and Mary Medrick's modern libretto highlight the timelessness of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's original story while creatively updating the romantic tale for 21st-century sensibilities and adapting it to Latin American cultural paradigms.
Coming two weeks after its triumphant production of Mozart’s German Singspiel masterpiece “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” Opera Colorado’s world premiere of Robert Xavier Rodriguez’s “La Curandera” is a revelation. Building on the adolescent Mozart’s precocious first Singspiel effort, “Bastien and Bastienne” (the entertaining 35-minute opening act of the evening), Rodriguez’s inventive score and Mary Medrick’s modern libretto highlight the timelessness of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s original story while creatively updating the romantic tale for 21st-century sensibilities and adapting it to Latin American cultural paradigms.Rodriguez’s selected thematic adaptations from Mozart underpin a lively Mexican-flavored score — punctuated by the brass and percussion and carried along by magic-invoking, minor-key melodies of the clarinet and accordion — from a nine-piece multitasking chamber orchestra conducted by the composer. Coupled with Medrick’s fresh interpretation of an estranged young couple reconciled by a folk healer, the production’s bridging of contemporary and traditional customs and the English and Spanish languages (both appear in the supertitles) promise a successful educational run following the public performances. The betrothed Alberto (Andy Truex) and Alba (Mary Ellen Assue) are about to board a jet for Mexico City to visit his family and receive blessings on their upcoming nuptials when Alba intercepts a cell phone call for Alberto, who is at the counter attending to last-minute details. After the mellifluous Spanish-speaking female on the other end of the line asks for Alberto, the connection is cut off. Alba becomes suspicious, grills Alberto about the other woman and the suspected affair, then turns a cold shoulder. The conflict is resolved when Alberto’s uncle’s nurse and the local innkeeper conspire to get Alba to visit La Curandera (Leslie Remmert Soich), the local mystical healer. Stage director Katherine Myers’ thoughtful casting and economical staging facilitates the straightforward but sufficiently shaded plot. Her players sparkle in Janetta A. Turner’s detailed and well-contrasted costumes, all set against Michael Bautista’s charming and colorful hacienda, with Robert Byers’ finely tuned lighting enhancing the details right down to eye-popping make-up. Here, the intimacy of Denver’s downtown mini-opera house/recital hall is a boon. Soich’s warm mezzo-soprano and nuanced, captivating perf in the title role bring the story’s transformative vision alive. Her rendition of the title song — beckoning the sad and the ill to her curative, faith-based power — is a show-stopper, topped off by her cascading coloratura as she works her magic. The attractive Assue (soprano) and handsome Truex (tenor) make beautiful music together and apart, generating the requisite sparks and friction as lovers Alba and Alberto learn the lessons of trust that underlie strong relationships. Jonathan Morales’ rich baritone and comedic chops win us over as the hedging innkeeper caught between materialism and spirituality. Christopher Jobs’ stirring bass and wistful, nostalgic airs paint a poignant picture of the aging General Godofredo de la Barca. Heather Hill, a coquettish songbird as Bastienne in the opener, reveals a heart of gold as the General’s nurse, Dionisia. Opera Colorado has a keeper in this well-thought-out and executed effort. “La Curandera” impressively exceeds the company’s commission to develop an audience-building, bilingual family opera, opening young minds to the possibilities of a broader reality beyond the ever-shrinking perspective of the corporate media marketplace.