This past Saturday, I was gifted with a pair of tickets to go see Andina: The Opera that Never Was. Created 80 years ago by the Colombian-born and Chicago-enamored composer Eustasio Rosales, a handcrafted copy of the never-performed Andina was found stored away by Rosales’s great-grandson, Arlen Parsa. Realizing that no one in his or his mother’s family had ever known much about their great-grandfather or his music, Arlen set upon a journey to change this and to honor his great-grandfather by having his last work finally premiered.
Knowing nothing about opera music, this was no easy task. It was made lighter however, by the collective nature it soon took, from a Kickstarter campaign to a host of other hands that have helped make his grandfather’s dream deferred into a beautiful reality. “I feel lucky to work with such great people,” Arlen states, “from Chris Ramaekers the conductor, to Pablo Santiago Chin, the music transcriptionist who typed up the old musical manuscripts, to our wonderful singers, and the extraordinarily talented Chicago Composers Orchestra.”
Few people know of my love for opera. And like Arlen, I really don’t know much about it, except that I love it and know how it makes me feel. How can it be described? Can you put into words something that takes a hold of you, that enraptures you, that causes you to transcend into the heavens and reminds you of your origin as stardust? Ecstatic? Enchanting? Andina does not disappoint.
The performance at the Athenaeum Theatre was executed with such grace, talent, and style. The music, colorful set, and lighting wonderfully captured the operas’ storyline, a tale of a woman from the Andean mountains in Colombia named Rosa who is loved by two different suitors, one poor the other rich, one with a passionate new love for her and the other with the familiar, yet deep love of someone who grows up with her in her hometown. It was inspiring to see every part of the opera work together, such harmony perhaps a reminder of the possibilities of our existence.
Art is often a mirror of its creator, a window into their mind and soul, so it does not surprise me when Arlen states: “I think getting to know sort of this mythic ancestor of ours through hearing his music at long last has been the greatest thing to come out of this adventure. And it turns out the music is beautiful too. It’s like a gift that we’ve finally been able to crack open, after 80 years.” I was honored to have witnessed and been a part of the opening of such a gift.
At its closing, Arlen expressed his family’s hope that this first performance of Andina not be its last. I am confident it will not. The opera was performed in its original Spanish language from Colombia, with the professional assistance of Diana Gabriel. Perhaps a premier in Colombia will be next?
Eustasio Rosales: the somebody who left all that he knew to come here, becoming a nobody, and leaving something to remind us that you are always a somebody and can never be a nobody.