Rudolfo Anaya's La Llorona Takes the Stage

By Bill Nevins
FIVE Magazine (2008)

As the de la Torre brothers and other visual artists seek to shed creative light on sometimes darkened subjects via multi-media works, so the National Hispanic Cultural Center's stage presentation of the New Mexico premiere of the opera La Llorona will offer an enlightened view of a traditionally dark, even scary, myth - that of the Witch of the Ditches, the Wailing Woman of the Rio Grande Valley and Mexican folklore, La Llorona. La Llorona is "a new world opera” composed by Rio Rancho and San Francisco-based, nationally acclaimed composer Daniel Steven Crafts with libretto by Alburquerque's most revered novelist, Rudolfo Anaya. Anaya is beloved for his classic fictional book about a traditional curandera (healer),Bless Me Ultimo, which is required reading in many schools, and one of those books that kids and adults actually re-read for the pure pleasure of it, often many times over.

Scholars have noted that the La Llorona story mixes good and bad in a way that fascinates generation after generation and is key to many related Chicano/a, Native American and Latin American cultural values and mythologies. While the curandera may exclusively practice the benevolent, protective healing arts, her skills and knowledge are inextricably linked to the dark bruja knowledge of retaliatory curses and destruction. Similarly, La Llorona may be the "boogie-man' witch whose story is used to frighten children into safety and obedience, but she also may symbolize a more redemptive function in the meeting of very different cultures and worlds. Like the Greek myth of Medea, or Irish tales of the Banshee, La Llorona is no simple monster myth. Deep within this fascinating recurring story is, perhaps, an explanation of change and survival relevant not just to ancient times but to our own.

That is the profound, even historically astute take on La Llorona which the Anaya-Crafts operatic version attempts. This La Llorona relates the "Wailing Woman' to La Malincbe, the Native American interpreter and lover of Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes – a woman seen as a personifying to her own ultimate peril the painful bridging of very different, clashing peoples and cultures. It's an intriguing way to reinvigorate and re-examine this time-honored myth, and its sure to offer magnificent operatic subject matter.

Crafts and the NHCC have assembled a stellar cast for this performance of La Llorona: Deborah Benedict as Malinche (La Llorona) and the Mother, Brian Cheney as the Captain (Cortes), Alissa Deeter as the Spanish Princess and the celebrated Ronald Hedlund as the Abuelo/Guard.

La Llorona at NHCC, Albuquerque Journal Theatre Saturday, October 25, 2008 at 8:OOpm.