Putting the Paloma in “La Paloma at the Wall”

In conversation is mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Mondragon on premiering the title role in “La Paloma at the Wall”




A picture is worth 1000 words

Jose Marquez

When we decided to set Breton and de la Vegas’ “La Verbena de la Paloma” at Friendship Park between San Diego and Tijuana, we had no idea how this issue would seize the public consciousness. Since then it has overtaken our political, ethical, spiritual discussion, and as such we’ve decided to use an image from the border in our materials. Griselda San Martin is an acclaimed photographer documenting the lives of some at the border, and this image which has become one of her most famous, she has generously agreed to let the In Series use. As we go about developing the final imagery for marketing the work, I wanted to post here the original. This is a man named Jose Marquez. He is a musician – singers, guitarist, accordion player, poet – who lived in San Diego for 18 years. He was deported to Mexico where, every Sunday, he comes to the border to visit with his daughter and family. His is a powerful and moving story. Griselda tells it here in this short documentary highlighted in the New York Times.


An update on whats down…

Its been a long time between posts here at I.S.5 – apologies, its been a full on period at In Series. “From U Street to the Cotton Club” played to sold-out houses, so much so that we added an additional performance. Beyond that we celebrated Mozart’s 263rd birthday with a surprise(ing) party at the Josephine Butler Mansion. Mozart is the composer most aligned with social justice values, so it was powerful to celebrate his ineffable spirit and brilliance at a building that is a enduring legacy of one of DC’s most pioneering activists for enfranchisement, housing, conservation. We decided this year to celebrate Mozart’s mercurial nature, and that meant singing three of his deliciously naughty cannons, teaching the audience the minuet and twinkle twinkle variations, and having our guests compose their own minuet based on a dice game Herr Mozart invented.

And now, all focus is turned towards “La Paloma at the Wall”. This is maybe our bravest and most pioneering work yet. In the next several weeks we’re going to be decimating information on zarzuela, the original “La Verbena at the Wall”, how we’ve turned this famed work into a meditation on human migration and borders, the music, the dance, everything we can to build understanding and excitement about this innovative and compelling new version. Hopefully, all that new content will turn into a much more prolific blog poster! The best laid plans….

Up Against the Wall

Its a busy time here at the In Series. We’re in the middle of a run of “From U Street to the Cotton Club” which opened January 5th to rave reviews, and plays through January 20th. We are mostly sold-out, and even considering adding a performance to fit everyone in. Included for this show are also walking tour of the U Street neighborhood with historian Timothy Wright who leads audiences through the story of the music and murals of DC’s Black Broadway. The tour ends at landmark U Street business Ben’s Chili Bowl for dinner before the show. And, on January 19th, we host a Go-go After Party with DJ Chuck Classik of Go-go Radio Live. Go-go has been an amazing discovery for me in moving to DC. It’s the bass-heavy next chapter in DC’s musical life and I’m so excited to be able to offer this unique event, especially unique for an opera company. More information is available at our website http://www.inseries.org.

I’m even more pleased to announce that writer Sybil Williams, creator of “From U Street to the Cotton Club” will return to the In Series next year with an original musical play based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and featuring the music of Billie Holiday.

181217-border-wall-mexico-cs-929a_397c543aca4cffc07116b73989398dc0.fit-2000wIn the midst of all this, however, my brain has been turning to our next project at the In Series, a new version of Tomas Breton’s beloved zarzuela “La Verbena de la Paloma”. In this version, called “La Paloma at the Wall” we do a sort of cultural reverse-colonization and set this Spanish zarzuela at the US/Mexican border between San Diego and Tijuana. The project as been planned to about 8 months, but we had no idea it would become so pertinent. Now with news of the government shutdown and its causes ringing loudly in our ears, putting this work on its feet takes special significance. Anna Deeny Morales has written an incredibly beautiful and powerful script, and Mexican composer Ulises Eliseo is right now arranging the score for traditional son jarocho instruments. It is going to be a real journey and I couldn’t be prouder to be doing it here at the In Series.

You can listen to a conversation with writer Anna Deeny Morales and me about how the idea for this piece got crafted into a real piece of drama – its sources, inspirations, complications, and processes.