Can a 100-year-old caped crusader – like a rebooted hero out of the Marvel Comics Universe – bring new audiences to opera? Fort Worth Opera is giving it a shot: It’s presenting a world premiere in English and Spanish about the legendary hero, Zorro.
Composer Héctor Armienta — founder of the San Jose company, Opera Cultura — wants his adaptation to be like Puccini’s operas in the 19th century, operas with disguises, duels, doomed love affairs.
And, of course, crowd-pleasing music.
As a character, Zorro has all of the necessary swash and buckle: He’s a masked swordsman fighting for justice and the woman he loves — in early 19th-century California, when it was a Spanish colony.
What’s more, Armienta is intent on creating tonal, melodic, accessible music. He sees his Zorro as very much like himself, both Mexican and American (“zorro” is Spanish for “fox.” Hence, he is “El Zorro”).
“So – people will hear Spanish music,” Armienta said. “They’ll hear flamenco music. And they’ll hear Mexican music. In fact, the opening starts with a guitar and you can almost imagine that you are sitting around a campfire in a village in Mexico.”
This version of Armienta’s opera will employ only guitar and piano, no chorus, and will be performed at the Rose Marine Theater on Fort Worth’s North Side. It’s a much smaller auditorium than Bass Hall, but Fort Worth Opera’s aim is to reach people — both English-speakers and Spanish-speakers — who don’t normally attend grand operas at the Bass. (Zorro was originally scheduled to premiere two years ago, but — COVID).
Armienta said a fuller version of this Zorro — with orchestra and chorus — will make its debut next season at Opera Southwest in New Mexico.
Zorro himself originated in a 1919 novel that was a worldwide hit. With an estimated 55 million copies sold, it ranks as one of the most popular novels, ever.
Little wonder it lead to multiple Hollywood sword-and-cape epics over the years, including the long-running Walt Disney television series starring Guy Williams as well as films with Douglas Fairbank, Tyrone Powers and, most recently, Antonio Banderas. The masked avenger even inspired such figures as Batman and the Lone Ranger. There’s actually a statue of him in his supposed “birthplace,” El Fuerte in Sinaloa, Mexico.
So yes – at the Rose Marine, there will be swordplay.
You can watch fight choreographer Jeffrey Colangelo rehearse with César Delgado, who plays the title role in Fort Worth Opera’s Zorro, in the video above.