It is actually not easy putting on an opera. That is what producer and best great-grandson-ever Arlen Parsa said when he took the stage at the end of his triumphant production “Andina.” Performed concert style and in Spanish with English subtitles, “Andina” is a very approachable opera written by Eustasio Rosales. The plot, a love triangle involving Don Carlos, a possibly sinister wealthy outsider, and his attempts at wooing the beautiful Rosa away from her mountain home and Juan, her childhood love, is simple. The backstory to the production, however, is anything but.
Eustasio Rosales was born in Colombia and began writing music at the age of twelve. He eventually made his way to Chicago where he became, in all likelihood, Chicago’s first Latino composer, with his work often performed by himself at silent movie theaters. Rosales also saw his compositions performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1932-33. During the Great Depression, Rosales lost almost everything and in 1934 he passed away, leaving a finished and unproduced opera behind. Eighty years after his death, Parsa, Rosales’ great-grandson, discovered this opera stored in a box at his aunt’s house. With no previous experience whatsoever in musical theater, Parsa decided that he would bring his great grandfather’s work back to life on the stage. He is also producing a documentary detailing his efforts.
When I spoke to Parsa moments before this dream was accomplished, he stated that he was very curious to see if his great grandfather’s music is any good. It is. And in the hands of conductor Chris Ramaekers and the Chicago Composers Orchestra it is more than good. It is actually a superb and occasionally funny work that takes the listener along on a very memorable ride. Helping matters along were the five wonderful voices working in tandem with the orchestra. Especially impressive was tenor voice Tobias Wright as Juan.
As for the plot, well it could use a little updating. Don Carlos here appears a bit boorish, but never sinister enough for the audience to care whether Juan succeeds or not at protecting Rosa’s honor. By the end of the production I was hoping Juan would get out of the way of Rosa and Don Carlos’ budding romance. Rosa could also use a little character development; though she’s given a beautiful voice by Alison Wahl in this production, the character lacks enough wit to make her interesting. But these are relatively easy fixes and distract little from the timeless music first conceived by Eustasio Rosales nearly a century ago. “Andina” is presently advertised as being for one night only, but it certainly deserves a much longer run. (Noel Schecter)
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, andinalives.com, $19. Ran one night only on September 18.