El Pasado Nunca se Termina Review – Beautiful and Moving

On a spring day when winter would not quit,( March 29th), I warmed up when I attended the premiere of the Mariachi Opera, El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past Is Never Finished), at the Civic Opera House.  Following Mariachi Aztlán performances in the previews in Pilsen and Waukegan, the Lyric performance featured Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.  In this 90-minute production, I felt part of a moving immigrant story to which I could relate and learned an encapsulated chunk or Mexican history about which I previously knew very little.  I would urge you to run out and get tickets to this enthusiastically received opera, but sadly, the run has ended.

The world-premiere performances of this mariachi opera, commissioned by Lyric Unlimited, have delighted audiences. José “Pepe” Martínez (music) and Leonard Foglia (librettist/director), who created the wildly successful Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, which had its first Chicago performances in 2013,have done it again.  As the title suggests, the Mariachi performers were an integral part of the production lending greater authenticity to the performances. Mariachi Aztlán, an award-winning group from the University of Texas Pan-American, appeared in the preview performances at Benito Juárez Community Academy in Pilsen and at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan. But the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, the “World’s Best Mariachi,” was in place for the world-premiere performances of El Pasado at the Civic Opera House.


Before the performance began, the lobby filled with audience members who enjoyed the music of the Chicago Mariachi Project.  The group situated on the balcony playing familiar Mariachi songs was greatly appreciated by applause and by the number of cell phones that went into action, taking videos to capture the group as they sang charming songs.


The opera had everything an opera needs – love, tragedy, history, great scenery and costumes, and above all wonderful voices and acting.  It is a story that entwines Mexico’s history with that of the US by way of two families and their offspring.


Though the hacienda where the story begins has a history that dates to the 1700’s this story depicts the life on a hacienda in South Central Mexico where we see the hacienda owners and the peasants who serve them and the way in which their lives intertwine. Luis (Daniel Montenegro) comes home from his studies in England to learn the ways of the hacienda.  Luis and Amorita (Abigail Santos Villalobos) the daughter of one of the peasants fall in love but they are star-crossed lovers.


We meet this family after several generations.  Now a young boy, Daniel (Sebastien E. DE La Cruz) and his father Enrique (Paul La Rosa) come back from the U.S. to find where their ancestors are buried.  They find much more than they expected.


The song that closes the opera,

“I am American born and bred,

Like my father before me.

But my face tells another story.

What is that story?

What is that story?”


This was the story of a Mexican immigrant who found out about his history, his ties to the mestizaje, the meaning of the instruments that comprise the Mariachi Band, what happened to his ancestors.  Watching this I remembered a trip I took with my daughter seeking our family’s roots in another country and another culture but the stories are similar.  How does our past influence who we are?  


What a delightful afternoon.


El Pasado stared Abigail Santos Villalobos (debut), Daniel Montenegro (debut), Paul La Rosa, and Ricardo Rivera (debut). The cast also featured Vanessa Alonzo, Cassandra Zoe Velasco (debut), Luis Ledesma (debut), Sebastien E. De La Cruz (debut), Octavio Moreno, and Miguel Nuñez (debut). De La Cruz is the talented young mariachi who has gained a national following both as a semifinalist on NBC’s America’s Got Talent in 2012 and from his two performances of the National Anthem during the 2013 NBA Finals. Alonzo and Moreno appeared in Lyric’s 2013 presentations of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. La Rosa is an alumnus of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s premier artist-development program.



This world-premiere opera was directed by Leonard Foglia, with set and projections by Elaine McCarthy, costumes by Scott Marr (Lyric’s production design director), and lighting by Chris Maravich (Lyric’s lighting director).


El Pasado Nunca Se Termina is generously made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an Anonymous Donor, Dr. and Mrs. Ricardo Rosenkranz, OPERA America, Exelon, Ken Norgan, United Scrap Metal, Inc., Mexico Tourism Board, The Field Foundation of Illinois, Mr. and Mrs. William E. Hay, Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation, Judy Guitelman & ALAS-Wings, and The PrivateBank, with additional support from Mr. and Mrs. Alejandro Silva, The McDonald’s Hispanic Owner/Operators Association, Maria C. Bechily and Scott Hodes, Douglas A. Doetsch and Susan Manning, and Rosy and Jose Luis Prado.  

Media support provided by 105.1-FM “La Que Buena” and Univision Chicago.

Lyric Unlimited was launched with major catalyst funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and receives major support from the Hurvis Family Foundation.

 See the Lyric Opera Calendar


Photos: Todd Rosenberg




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