Zarzuela, Mariachi Dynamic Duo for LA Opera

L.A. Opera's Zarzuela Project in collaboration with The Mariachi Conservatory presents a free concert at El Pueblo, 4/17/16

By Teresa Gordon
Published on LatinoLA: April 9, 2016

Zarzuela, Mariachi Dynamic Duo for LA Opera

Think opera can only be the tux and tails formality of a sweeping concert at the grand Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles? How about the combination of zarzuela, the popular Spanish form of operetta, and mariachi, held on Olvera Street just a short distance away?

Thanks to influence of renowned singer and LA Opera General Director Plácido Domingo, this duet can be an opera experience, too. The opera company's Zarzuela Project, in collaboration with The Mariachi Conservatory, presents a free concert, sung and performed by the project's students, on Sunday, April 17 at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. at Plaza Kiosko at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, home of Olvera Street.

"Los Angeles is an exciting city," says Domingo, "It is used to exciting things."

The Zarzuela Project was inspired by Domingo, who was born in Madrid and raised by his parents, famous zarzuela performers, in Mexico. The dramatic theater of a zarzuela has been called the best genre to explore Spanish cultural, its spirit, traditions and feelings, through music. One such example is Federico Moreno Torroba's "Luisa Fernanda" (1932), centered on the Spanish Revolution of 1868.

The Zarzuela Project of LA Opera serves to inspire future generations and preserve this art form. Weekly free classes for youth and adults are held at The Mariachi Conservatory, directed by Richard Mata and his wife Esperanza Juarez, on the campus of Salesian High School in Los Angeles. Participants can join at any time, and are coached in singing and acting. The proud performances are then held to the delight of family, friends and the local community.

"Mr. Domingo was the first person to throw open the doors for zarzuela on our main stage," says Stacy Brightman, Senior Director of LA Opera's Education and Community Engagement. Class participants "fall in love with opera when they get inside it and participate."

Brightman oversees LA Opera's extensive community outreach programs, which include bringing music to universities, hospitals and nursing homes. She says seeing the excitement of the participants in the Zarzuela Project is the ultimate reward.

"We get back more than we give," she says. "With opera, kids especially 'get' very quickly that music and story go together."

Similarly, Domingo's longstanding passion for mariachi music makes the pairing with zarzuela a perfect match. Of all of the many honors and awards he's received, including 12 Grammy Awards, of which three are Latin Grammy Awards, Domingo has said the Grammy he received for his platinum-selling album "100 años de Mariachi" has meant the most to him.

"Opera does not only have to be classical to please the public," observes Domingo, who recently celebrated LA Opera's 30th anniversary with a gala concert along side singer Renée Fleming and conductor James Conlon. The concert included music from a wide span, from Verdi operas to Broadway musicals such as West Side Story and the King and I. The encore included a heartfelt performance of "Besame Mucho."

Considering that New York's Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1883, and Milan, Italy's famed La Scala was inaugurated in 1778, Domingo notes that in comparison, "LA Opera is such a young company."

Having been involved in the creation of LA Opera, Domingo had served as its artistic consultant since 1984. He performed in the company's inaugural production of Otello in l986, and became LA Opera's artistic director in 2001. Domingo has been LA Opera General Director since 2003.

"It is my proudest accomplishment to have helped build LA Opera into one of the great opera companies in the world in such a short time," he says.

The Zarzuela Project is just one of the programs used to increase singing opportunities by Domingo. In 1993, he founded Operalia, an annual competition held in a different international city each year, to recognize and encourage young opera singers. The competition has launched the careers of many international artists, including Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón, with this year's Operalia to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico. The competition also includes a special zarzuela award, named after Domingo's parents.

Plácido Domingo's repertoire of 147 roles is unmatched by any other tenor in history, and includes performances sung in Italian, French, German, English, Spanish and Russian.

Still, Domingo recalls being starry-eyed when he first stepped on stage in Los Angeles, home of movie stars and all things Hollywood, nearly 50 years ago while performing with New York City Opera.

"I have a long-standing romance with Los Angeles," he says.

And with the duet of zarzuela and mariachi, lovers of all music can expect more dazzle from LA Opera. "The public is ready for more exciting things," Domingo promises.

For more information on the Zarzuela Project, please call (213) 972-3157 or

About Teresa Gordon:
Teresa Gordon is a freelance writer based in Southern California who has published in Latin Beat, Hispanic Magazine, Sabor Magazine and the Daily Breeze Newspapers. She previously hosted a cable TV talk show based in Chicago and L.A.

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