La Llorona


 An opera in 3 Acts


Libretto and Original Story by

Rudolfo Anaya



Malinche (La Llorona)


Captain (Cortes) / Father


Spanish Princess


Abuelo (Grandfather)




Aztec Priest  / Guard



Boy Soprano

Aztec Dance Troupe




2 Flutes (2nd doubling on Primitive Flute)

2 Oboes (2nd doubling on English Horn)

2 Clarinets in B-flat

1 Bass Clarinet in B-flat

2 Bassoons

4 French horns

3 Trumpets in B‑flat

3 Trombones

1 Tuba


3 Percussionists 




La Llorona

A New World Opera


Stories of la Llorona, the Crying Woman, are so well known in the oral tradition of Latin America they have achieved mythic status.


The basic plot is as follows: a young woman falls in love with a handsome suitor. The love affair produces children, but the father deceives the mother. Finding herself alone and deserted, in a moment of despair, the young mother drowns her children. When she realizes what she has done she runs by the water's edge crying for her children.


The story of Cortes and Malinche lends itself to such a mythic story. Cortes, the Captain of the opera, uses the beautiful and intelligent Malinche as a translator in his war against the Aztecs. Once the Aztecs are conquered he decides to advance his career by marrying a princess from Spain. The treachery drives Malinche to murder her son before he can be murdered by the Princess. Realizing what she has done, Malinche becomes the Crying Woman, la Llorona of the New World.


The story of La Llorona is not only part of the popular imagination, it is part of the collective unconscious, which means the plot or variations of it, occur in legend world wide. The story of Medea is most often cited as analogous to La Llorona's.


Rudolfo Anaya


Plot Synopsis


Act One 

The opera begins in present time in an Hispanic household on Halloween night.  The little boy, Alfredo, is dressed as a goblin, and his mother is baking cookies for the trick‑or‑treaters.  Abuelo (Grandfather) appears at the front door with a mask over his face to fool Alfredo.  He admires Alfredo's costume‑‑a "fearsome monster"‑‑and exchanges greetings with his daughter.  When the sound of the wind outside breaks their conversation, Abuelo claims it is the cry of "La Llorona".  "Who's la Llorona?" asks Alfredo. Abuelo sees that his daughter is upset at the memory of her other son Miguel "who disappeared on a night like this" and says the bloody story must wait for another time.  But the mother encourages him to tell it, and he begins the narrative about Malinche, an Aztec princess who acted as translator for Cortes and later became his wife.  "She betrayed and was betrayed," says Abuelo.

Immediately the scene changes to an Aztec temple sometime after the death of Moctezuma where a dance troupe magnificently attired fills the stage.  Following the dance a priest gives an incantation.  Malinche appears and prays to Moctezuma.  The Captain (Cortes) enters and recalls their romantic meeting in Verz Cruz before the birth of their son.  He extols her to help him continue his quest to rule the New World.  She, on the other hand, feels only guilt at having betrayed her people.

The son enters garbed in Aztec regalia and performs a native dance.  The captain is incensed that his son has so readily adopted the ways of the conquered people.  He resolves that he will take the boy with him to Spain to train him properly.

As the son departs, the Spanish princess enters and announces her intention to leave "this savage country." She tries to persuade the captain to accompany her and flatters him saying, "Return to Spain and claim your crown."  As she leaves, Malinche hears the two of them agree to meet later in secret.

When the captain reasserts his intention to return to Spain and take the boy with him, Malinche protests, but to no avail. In the aria, "Once his words were sweet. . ."  she prays to Moctezuma for guidance.  When his ghost appears before her, it hands her a dagger which Malinche interprets as a command of suicide.  But when the ghost points toward the boy, Malinche realizes that it is not her blood that is asked for, but that of her son.  Furthermore, it is she who must carry out the sacrifice. 

Act Two 

Act Two takes place the same night.  The captain returns to the temple looking for Malinche.  He grieves for his friend Moctezuma and that so much blood has been shed.  If only the Aztec people could understand, the "true way" they would not resist, he says. 

The princess returns for their tryst and is amazed to see the captain groveling on the ground speaking to spirits. She tries to convince him there are no ghosts and makes it clear her intention is to marry him "properly" once they return to Spain.  Malinche, in her owl form, overhears the conversation, and when the princess declares that the son must die, she swoops down screaming, "Murder, murder!"  The captain and Malinche argue while the nearby volcano thunders.  Malinche begs for a last hour with her son, and the captain reluctantly agrees.  The act closes with a Matachine dance.

Act Three

Act Three begins as the volcano is starting to erupt.  The captain sends his guard to find Malinche, telling him to look near the lake, a spot where she often goes. The guard returns exclaiming that all hell has broken loose, the lake is red with blood and that Malinche has killed the child. Malinche enters in a bloody gown and pleads for mercy turning to the Aztec Tonatzin and the Christian Maria. 

The scene now returns to the present as Abuelo finishes the story.  A knock is heard at the door and the mother answers it to find father dressed as a ghost in a tattered sheet.  He is prepared to take Alfredo out to beg for candy.  He comforts his wife in her grief over their missing son, telling her not to live in the past.  He and Alfredo leave while Abuelo and the mother stay behind and listen to the sound of the wind‑‑la Llorona.