La Curandera (2005) 

Comic Opera in One Act
Libretto (English with some Spanish) by Mary Medrick

Duration:  One Hour
Cast:  S, 2 Mz, T, Bar, B
cl (asx)/tpt.btbn/2 perc/
Piano reduction available

Commissioned by Opera Colorado
Premiere Performance:  May 13, 2006; Opera Colorado; RXR, Conductor

La Curandera is a one-act comic opera based on the same story as Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, designed to be performed on a double bill with the Mozart.

Valentina Osinski as La Curandera
 Cinnabar Theater; Photo: Victoria Webb 


'Curandera' is masterful. 
 Opera is "in" these days, and every season sees numerous new works on stage around the country: sees them and then sees them disappear into archives with, at best, modest hope for future performances. Thus, it's great news that Opera Colorado has created a mini-masterpiece that seems destined to be popular for years to come. La Curandera…is a work of such freshness and spontaneity that the large audience present for the event was ready to sing along in its final chorus. For the one-hour work, San-Antonio born Robert Xavier Rodríguez has composed music deeply rooted in the Hispanic culture of the American Southwest. Its rhythms and melodies —
its "beat" — are familiar and make for easy listening.

Yet Paris-educated Rodríguez has not simply recycled folk music. He has written a sophisticated score that derives its strength from folkloristic roots. It's the composer's creative transformation of this source material that makes La Curandera an awesome achievement. Viewed from the new-wine-in-old-skins perspective, Rodríguez has done here what Bela Bartok did with the folk music of his native Hungary and — more recently — what Argentinians Alberto Ginastera and Oswaldo Golijov have made of the traditional music of their homeland. All three have brought new vitality to the established forms of Western music, which is what Rodríguez has done in La Curandera. It's a work of overpowering originality with an appeal that will have people who normally turn a deaf ear on new music wanting to dance in the aisles.

A further product of the composer's long collaboration with librettist Mary Medrick, the opera tells the story of a handsome young couple whose love is threatened by jealously. Its happy end results from the magic powers of "la curandera," a benevolent witch-like figure from Mexican folklore. But it's Rodríguez and Medrick who make magic of the simple plot. Richly witty in words and music, La Curandera has the markings of lasting appeal…a work both demanding and accessible and of a charm that makes it irresistible.    
                                       Wes Blomster, Boulder Daily Camera

…Opera Colorado’s production of Robert Xavier Rodríguez' La Curandera is a revelation. Building on an adolescent Mozart's precocious first Singspeil effort, Bastien and Bastienne (which comprises the entertaining thirty-five minute opening act of the evening), Rodríguez' inventive score and Mary Medrick's modern libretto highlight the timelessness of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's original story while creatively updating the romantic tale for 21st-Century sensibilities and adapting it to Latin American cultural paradigms.

Rodríguez' selected and unselfconscious thematic adaptations from Mozart underpin a lively Mexican-flavored score—punctuated by the brass and percussion and carried along by magic-invoking minor-key melodies of the clarinet and accordion—from a nine-piece multi-tasking chamber orchestra conducted by the composer. Coupled with Medrick's fresh interpretation of an estranged young couple reconciled by a folk healer, the production's bridging of contemporary and traditional customs and the English and Spanish languages (both appear in the supertitles) promises a successful educational run following the public performances.

The betrothed Alberto and Alba are about to board a jet for Mexico City to visit his family and receive blessings on their upcoming nuptials when Alba intercepts a cell phone call for Alberto, who is at the counter attending to last-minute details. After the mellifluous Spanish-speaking female on the other end of the line asks for Alberto, the connection is cut off. Alba becomes suspicious, grills Alberto about the other woman and the suspected affair, and then turns a cold shoulder. The conflict is resolved when Alberto's uncle's nurse and the local innkeeper conspire to get Alba to visit La Curandera, the local mystical healer…

Opera Colorado has a keeper in this well-thought-out and executed effort that impressively exceeds the company's commission to develop an audience-building bilingual family opera, opening young minds to the possibilities of a broader reality, beyond the ever-shrinking perspective of the corporate media marketplace.
                                       Bob Bows, Variety

Curandera’ a splendid outing.
…an entertaining, family-friendly treat...Using an orchestra of just nine musicians, Rodríguez …has created an appealing, mariachi-infused score that draws much of its ethnic flavor from the accordion, an unusual instrument in opera, and an array of percussion. Having composed an earlier opera primarily for children, Monkey See, Monkey Do, Rodríguez knows a thing or two about keeping young people engaged. From the downbeat of this work's immediately engaging overture forward, the energy of this perky, highly rhythmic music never flags.
                                      Kyle McMillan, The Denver Post

…fun-filled original…Moving and mesmerizing… The music is magnificent, a tuneful, cleverly orchestrated blend of Mexican folk and Mozart-esque whimsy… Brisk, bubbly and packed with tunes you might still be humming a week later…
                                      David Templeton, Metro Active (SF Bay Area)

On the edge of town lives La Curandera, a slightly mystical herbal healer who actually relies very little on magic. Instead, she depends on her own listening skills, good sense, personal charm and kind heart. After a visit with her, everyone feels better, and audiences for the new opera "La Curandera" will feel the same way. Robert Xavier Rodríguez's Mexican-style, one-act opera is a joy to watch - pure fun, set to beautiful music…  Based on Mozart's opera "Bastien and Bastienne," the composition also draws on Mexican folk themes, producing music that is complex and textured, and reflects the Latino culture's traditional delight in simply being alive…
Dan Taylor, Press Democrat (Petaluma, CA) 

Master composer embraces cultura.
In an extraordinary feat, La Curandera, a comic one-act opera, combines the world of opera with the world of Mexican Folklore…The result of what Rodríguez has accomplished with this piece is a musical masterpiece of Mexican folk music, Mozart and American jazz.

Magdalena Gallegos, El Semanario (Denver)

Comic opera set in Mexico finds composer Robert X. Rodríguez in top form
San Antonio-born composer Robert X. Rodriguez has created a handsomely crafted, audience-pleasing romp in the form of “La Curandera,” a one-act comic opera to a libretto by Mary Medrick…the laughs are abundant and honestly obtained, and there is much pleasure to be had from the composer’s sheer mastery of his craft. Rodriguez appropriates some familiar melodies from Mexican folk tradition, freshens them up and weaves them through deftly made, rhythmically vibrant original material. He calls for an orchestra of only nine players, but the instrumentation (two strings,  three winds, piano, accordion, percussion and timpani) affords a wide gamut of color possibilities, and Rodriguez exploits them superbly… delightfully intricate ensembles… amply funny.
                                             Mike Greenberg, Incident Light

Program Note:

La Curandera (2005) is a comedy in one act, commissioned by Opera Colorado.  The premiere production in 2006 was presented on a double bill with Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne (1768).  The libretto of La Curandera is based on an original story inspired by Mozart’s three-character opera.  The new Mexican setting replaces the original sorcerer with a curandera, or practitioner of folk healing and magic, and adds three additional characters.  Although the libretto is primarily in English, there are frequent Spanish words and phrases, including many popular proverbs and idiomatic expressions from both Mexico and Spain.  The libretto also incorporates actual curandera incantations, rituals and procedures from Mexican folklore as well as from current practice in Mexico and in the United States.  In treating the natural and the supernatural as two sides of the same coin, the central character of the opera, La Curandera, embodies what conductor/ composer Eduardo Mata described as an essential feature of his childhood in Mexico, “living close to witches and sorcerers.  Their sons and daughters were my friends.  I grew up in a world where magic and the interplay between the real and the objective and the unreal and the magic coexisted on a daily basis.  This [syncretism] has been a way of life in many of the cultures of Hispano-America...”

The music of La Curandera, likewise, pays homage to Mozart, with a Mexican flavor.  The six singers are joined by eight instrumentalists:  clarinet (doubling alto saxophone), trumpet, bass trombone, percussion, accordion, piano, violin and cello.  In the overture, the distinctive entrance music for Mozart’s sorcerer is heard, then transformed into sounds of mariachi.  Authentic Mexican melodies are employed throughout the opera, including the national anthem, Mexicanos al grito de guerra, the traditional march, Zacatecas, the folk song, La chinita and several melodies, textures and harmonic patterns derived from the traditional son jarocho-style music of Veracruz:  El guapo, Coni coni, El huerfanito, El borracho, El buscapies and La bruja.  Arias, spoken dialogue and accompanied recitative alternate with intricate opera buffa ensemblesin a score filled with Rodríguez' characteristic "richly lyrical" (Musical America) writing, in a style "romantically dramatic" (Washington Post) and full of the composer's "all-encompassing sense of humor" (Los Angeles Times).


The opera is set in present-day Tepoztlán, an actual village near Mexico City known for its curanderos/curanderas, practitioners of folk magic.

Scene One.  It is afternoon in the outdoor lobby of the fictitious Hotel Tepoztecatl, named for the Aztec god of the alcoholic drink, pulque.  The elderly and distinguished General Godofredo de la Barca (bass) enters, accompanied by his pretty young nurse, Dionisia (mezzo-soprano).  Ramón (baritone), proprietor of the hotel, has just given an annual fiesta in honor of the famous General de la Barca.  All three, especially the guest of honor, are happily tipsy, and they join in a three-person conga line.  General de la Barca expresses his gratitude to Ramón for the tribute and to Dionisia for her devoted care.  La Curandera (contralto) enters, inquiring about The General’s health and about his American grand-nephew, Alberto, whom The General has not seen since the funeral of his beloved wife, Estela, two years ago.  When The General and Dionisia leave, Ramón asks La Curandera about the potion she has given him to bring more lucrative tourist business to his hotel.  La Curandera scoffs at his doubts and assures him of the power of her magic.

Scene Two.  Later that same day, The General’s grand-nephew, Alberto (tenor), and his fiancée, Alba (soprano), count their luggage in an American airport, on their way to pay “Uncle Godo” a surprise visit.  Alberto warmly recounts his childhood with “tio Godo” and “tia Estela” in Mexico, and the couple agree to name their first child “Godofredo,” after Alberto’s celebrated, and now only living, relative.  Alberto leaves for a moment to get a luggage tag. While he is gone, the cell phone in his bag rings.  Alba answers and hears a woman’s  voice asking in Spanish for Alberto.  Alba, not understanding the language, hangs up.  When Alberto returns, Alba confronts him as to the woman’s identity, but he brushes off her question and hurries her onto their flight.

Scene Three.  That evening in Tepoztlán, on the patio of General de la Barca’s hacienda, The General repairs his deceased wife’s silver watch and muses on the passing of time.  Dionisia enters, brightly, bringing him a delicious dinner.  She jokes, teases and dances with him.  Soon he cheers up and observes, as she leaves, that “Time is the cure!”

Scene Four.  The next morning, Alberto and Alba arrive at the Hotel Tepoztecatl and check in with Ramón.  Alba, obviously upset, again questions Alberto about the suspicious female caller with the “beautiful voice.”  Ramón tries, in vain, to follow their heated argument, as Alba presses Alberto for the woman’s name and Alberto persists in his innocence.  Alberto further enrages Alba by repeatedly correcting her faulty Spanish.  When Alba storms off to the room, Ramón tries to console Alberto.  Alberto dejectedly calls Dionisia to arrange the surprise visit, sans fiancée, with his uncle.  He tells Dionisia of his misunderstanding with Alba, and Dionisia suggests that Alberto send Alba to La Curandera for a dose of her magic.  Dionisia tells Alberto that she will bring his uncle to meet him at La Curandera’s house.  Ramón reluctantly promises Alberto that he will take Alba for her visit, and he calls La Curandera to make an appointment. 

Scene Five (Finale) is set in La Curandera’s house, where the interior and exterior are both clearly visible.  Inside, La Curandera gleefully awaits her new American client.  Ramón brings Alba to the door and convinces her to ring the bells.  Before Alba can ring them, the bells ring by themselves, and La Curandera invites her inside.  Alba tells La Curandera she doesn’t think she can help her.   La Curandera roughly answers that, if Alba doesn’t believe that magic can help her, then she should leave.  Taken aback, Alba decides to stay, and she accepts La Curandera’s offer of tea.  Instead of serving Alba tea to drink, however, La Curandera throws tea leaves over Alba’s head “to purify the air.”  Little by little, La Curandera presses Alba to reveal her suspicions about the mysterious voice of the “other woman” on the telephone.  When La Curandera cleverly pretends to agree with Alba about Alberto’s philandering ways, Alba abruptly changes her attitude and begins, instead, to defend Alberto and to affirm her trust and love for him.  Alberto approaches the house in the midst of the proceedings, and throughout the scene, Alberto and Ramón listen outside La Curandera’s door.  They comment and speculate nervously on the action inside as La Curandera performs a series of intense and exotic incantations, waving herbs, lighting candles, giving Alba a flower to hold and taking her pulse (to “listen” to her “blood”), eventually causing Alba to swoon. 

When General de la Barca and Dionisia arrive, uncle and nephew are joyously reunited.  Alberto and Dionisia finally meet in person, and Alberto discovers that Dionisia was the mysterious female caller.  All anxiously await the outcome of Alba’s continuing encounter with La Curandera.  The scene culminates as Alba crushes the flower, which, La Curandera declares, has absorbed all of Alba’s jealous suspicions. 

At the moment Alba emerges, however, she sees Alberto kissing Dionisia, and she immediately assumes the worst.  The old argument erupts anew.  Eventually, however, Alba learns that Dionisia is The General’s nurse and that she had called Alberto to invite him to visit his uncle, with Alberto not knowing who she was and with Dionisia not knowing that he was already on his way.  With everything understood, Alberto is finally able to present his fiancée to his beloved uncle.  Ramón, encouraged by The General and Dionisia, renews his hope for La Curandera’s promise of a more prosperous life, and Alba and Alberto again declare their love for each other.  La Curandera comes out to join the happy scene.  She meets Alberto and receives his thanks, and, in a joyous finale, everyone praises La Curandera for her magic and her wisdom.  There is general rejoicing as the curtain falls.