By César Octavio Moreno Zayas
PhD Candidate for The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Last Thursday, October 11, I went to the second performance of Luciérnaga (Firefly) the last opera composed by Gabriela Ortiz with a libretto written by Silvia Peláez. It was a very interesting experience musically, vocally as well as visually. The performance took place at the Sala Miguel Covarrubias at the National Autonomous University (UNAM). This one and a half hour long opera tells the story of Alcira Soust Scaffo, an Uruguayan poet, who locked herself at the male toilet of the Tower of Humanities at UNAM, during a military intervention to the university on September 18, 1968.
1968 was a year of different social movements around the world. In Mexico, there was also a movement that evolved into a large-scale conflict between different groups (students and the state). Books have been written exploring the different reasons that have led to such outcomes. Therefore, it is a sensitive subject to talk about, and to create an opera based on this was not an easy job. Opera and politics or social issues have been always present through the whole history of the genre, but its forms to show it was not always so direct. The 20th and 21st Century have seen the premieres of operas dealing with very specific and contemporary concerns, for example, John Adam’s Doctor Atomic or The Death of Klinghoffer, Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, or Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek. As for me, Luciérnaga was a clever choice among the different options to talk about the movement of 68, which now it is its 50th anniversary.
The librettist has created a good text for a soprano and a male actor. The work narrates a claustrophobic environment, and we see how Alcira, sung by Cecilia Eguiarte, tells what is happening outside the building but also things that happen in her head. She struggles with real facts and with her mind. The actor José Juan Sánchez appears sometimes as a soldier (a real one), others as a mere character of Alcira’s mind, such as a dinosaur (common visual representation of the leading party of that time; PRI).
The music of Gabriela Ortiz was very descriptive for such plot full of uprising emotions and inner feelings. It was a turmoil very well depicted by percussions and winds, sometimes nice and lovely, others aggressive and chaotic, but always on the track of the plot. The soprano Cecilia Eguiarte sang an interesting and convincing Alcira, dealing always well with the defying score and acting adequately. The actor José Juan Sánchez did a good job performing the characters. The orchestra, Onix Ensemble, was conducted by Ludwig Carrasco, very well conducted, always firm and steady.
The production was directed by David Attie. It was a very good work with projections exploring different elements of Alcira’s mind, including the reptile traits. But, also it consisted of some flexible panels resembling the windows of the building, behind those panels we could see the toilets services. The use of all the material was very good, giving always a reason for each element on the stage. It was for me interesting the separation of the singing part and the acting part because it reminds me the distinction that Adorno does between audience who wish to sing, but cannot, and the singers who are able to express the desires of the audience. Considering this perspective Alcira stands for a poet thought that moves in the world of ideas and ideals. The work in the whole was very good, maybe some elements might be extra, as for my taste, but that it is a just personal choice. I highly recommend this work and I am hoping to see it again because it should have had more than three performances.