The Classical Review » » Dashing ‘Zorro’ Captures Hearts at Fort Worth Opera’s World Premiere

It’s courtship and swordplay for Ana Maria (Gabriella Enríque) and undercover nobleman Diego (César Delgado) in Fort Worth Opera’s rousing production of Zorro. Photo: Ryan Scott Lathan/FWO

Héctor Armienta, composer, librettist and history buff, took about ten years to complete his new opera Zorro, a risque reimagining of the century-old tale of the pulp hero in an unexpected neo-romantic musical setting. It’s been a decade well spent based on the world premiere given by Fort Worth Opera on Wednesday night at the Rose Marine Theater.

A creatively lit full costume production accompanied only by piano and guitar, and sung without a chorus, Zorro came to life within the strict logistical limitations of the 254-seat hall. Credit a melodious and emotive score, powerful use of leitmotif, nimble direction and staging, and a strong cast to deliver the opera’s winning blend of humor, action, romance, and bilingual flair .

The North Side Fort Worth venue is much smaller than the organization’s usual downtown home for full-fledged productions, the 2,056-seat Bass Performance Hall. But it better serves FWO’s mission to bring opera to communities that traditionally don’t experience it or have access to it. A loud and visibly happy audience also helped make by zorro first day in the barrel a success.

Unconventionally set in early 19th century Los Angeles – then a colony of New Spain – the opera follows Diego de la Vega, esteemed swordsman and Spanish nobleman, as he fights for the poor and slaves . With his true identity concealed behind a black mask and a dashing alias, Diego as Zorro renounces his royal birthright to defend the beaten and subjugated mixed-race Indians against the extrajudicial tyranny of the village mayor, General Moncada. In the process, Zorro defends his love, Ana Maria, from persecution – a fitting homage to the gritty verist genre.

Humorous vignettes temper the drama and give the story a healthy provincial appeal centered on a romance between two secondary characters: the affectionately goofy Sergeant Gomez and the mischievous villager Luisa.

Armienta’s score is rich with cultural influences that showcase the vast musical palette of Latin and Hispanic artistic traditions. Elements of buleria flamenco, bullfight song and mariachi give the music a vibrant narrative edge, with robust syncopated dance beats as well as high-stepped hemiolas, passionate harmonic progressions and a clear thematic score. Christopher McGuire’s guitar playing in this stripped-down production communicated the story’s musical milieu well without detracting from Charlene Lotz’s piano accompaniment. Coupled with a libretto that seamlessly blends English and Spanish texts, the material shines with Latin cultural sophistication.

The vocals at this premiere were a group achievement, featuring several local artists. The tenor César Delgado was a fascinating Diego/Zorro. No stranger to the bel canto styles demanded for the role, he sang with a consistent richness of tone and flexibility throughout his wide range. Opposite him was soprano Gabriella Enríquez, making her FWO debut as Ana Maria. The strong-voiced Enríquez was a bit overwhelming as the romantic lead, but her acting prowess provided a welcome balance.

Soprano Gabrielle Gilliam was light and agile in Luisa’s tone. Baritone Brandon Bell as Gomez – a role practically written to steal the show – was ticklish and rugged. In his FWO debut, his comedic timing and deft use of pantomime elevated the character and the entire production. It is certain that he will soon return to the FWO scene in other roles.

Director Octavio Cardenas, given the uncluttered setting, did well to convey the impact of a large-scale production, with creative lighting design and clever period costumes doing much of the heavy lifting. Jeffrey Colangelo’s fight choreography was decently convincing in a small venue where the close sightlines of the audience would challenge anyone trying to stage plausible swordplay.

History, excitement and contemporary-minded social commentary come together in luscious, fiery tones and a simple, gripping narrative. For what it is – an iconic pulp series remade into an opera – it’s sure to become a favorite when it’s inevitably picked up for a full-resource production.

Zorro will be repeated at 7 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. fwopera.org817-731-0726

About Madeline J. Carter

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