Opera of Rudolfo Anaya's 'Bless Me, Ultima' set to premiere

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The opera adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya's famed novel "Bless Me, Ultima," one of the most recognizable works of Mexican-American literature, is set to premiere in Albuquerque.

Organizers say all five dates for a performance based on the book some scholars believed sparked the Chicano literary movement in the late 1960s already have been sold out.

The opera, a collaboration with Opera Southwest written by California-based composer Hector Armienta, is scheduled to open Feb. 18 at National Hispanic Cultural Center. It stars mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chavez and runs until Feb. 25.

Center executive director Rebecca Avitia said the excitement around the "Bless Me, Ultima" opera shows that Latinos will attend opera productions if they can recognize the themes and if the productions have Hispanic performers.

"'Bless Me, Ultima' tells the story of the human spirit," Avitia said. "This shattered the myth that Latinos don't attend operas."

Experts say Anaya's World War II-area novel about a young Mexican American boy's relationship with an older curandera — a healer of Mexican Indian heritage — influenced a generation of Latino writers because of its imagery and cultural references that were rare at the time of its publication.

Despite its popularity on college campuses throughout the years, the novel has been banned in some Arizona schools.

It was made into a feature film in 2013.

Anaya, sometimes called the godfather of contemporary Chicano literature, was born in Pastura, New Mexico, and raised in nearby Santa Rosa.

The opera production also will feature the debut of Daisy Beltran, a 15-year-old soprano, who will play Tony, the main character of "Bless Me, Ultima." The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Beltran turned to opera after resisting her mother's push to study mariachi music, according to her mom, Norma.

"When I came to this country, I cleaned houses," Norma Beltran said. "Now, my daughter is singing opera. When she was a 7-year-old, she told me, 'this is what I want to do.' I'm so excited."

The production comes six years after the National Hispanic Cultural Center faced financial problems amid declining donations and unstable leadership.

Avitia, a Columbia Law School-trained attorney, has earned praise for increasing donations and bringing unique productions to the center.


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP's race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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