Art Preview: Opera Southwest Presents Bless Me, Ultima

Opera Southwest Premieres An Adaptation Of A Classic

Maggie Grimason
2 min read
New Songs for Anaya
Soprano Daisy Beltran as Tony and Mezzo- soprano Kirsten Chávez as Ultima in Opera Southwest's adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya's novel (Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography)
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Starting its tenure at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW) on Sunday, Feb. 18, and running until Sunday, Feb. 25, is Bless Me, Ultima like you’ve never seen it before. For this little-over-a-week long engagement, Opera Southwest is presenting the first ever performances of Rudolfo Anaya’s classic story in the form of an opera conducted by Maestro Guillermo Figueroa.

Looking ahead to the show’s premiere, Opera Southwest’s Publicity Director Stephanie Hainsfurther provided some further details on this re-telling of the novel.

Alibi: How was an opera production of this book conceived of?

Hainsfurther: Opera Southwest and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, along with Opera Cultura in Los Angeles, commissioned this opera from prominent Mexican-American composer Héctor Armienta, creator of a musical drama based on the legend of La Llorona. It has long been an ambition of Opera Southwest to present a world premiere of a distinctly New Mexican opera. Rudolfo Anaya’s American classic was foremost in the minds of Artistic Director Maestro Anthony Barrese and Executive Director Tony Zancanella, and our major donors were always on board with the idea.

What were the unique challenges that adapting it to this medium presented?

There are story lines within the novel that were dropped from the opera, for the sake of brevity. Mr. Armienta consulted with Mr. Anaya on the libretto, and they were careful to adhere to the major themes, scenes and characters. The opera is an art form in and of itself. But Bless Me, Ultima the novel is the kernel of the story.

How do you think seeing it as an opera might deepen viewers’ understanding of the story?

The principle themes: personal destiny, the spiritual world vs. the temporal world, good vs. evil, come through poignantly in the beauty of the music. They’ll feel it in their hearts.

What do you hope viewers walk away with, or have learned, after seeing this production?

That New Mexico is a place unlike any other, where we have celebrated authors like Rudolfo Anaya, and people dedicated to showcasing our uncommon arts and culture, like everyone involved with Opera Southwest.

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