The name Pancho Villa brings up images of desperados hiding out in the hills of Mexico, wearing huge sombreros and bandoliers filled with bullets. But who exactly was the moustached Mexican Revolutionary? Good question. Villa’s story is definitely the stuff of myth and legend. And while you might not think of opera in the same breath as Pancho Villa, his experiences as the Mexican Robin Hood who became the hero of the poor has great operatic scope. Which is why composer Graham Reynolds chose Villa as the subject matter for his opera, “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” presented by TAMU’s Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts on Wednesday, November 7 at 7 p.m. at A&M’s Rudder Theater.
Ballroom Marfa, a non-profit headquartered in Western Texas, commissioned Reynolds to create “The Marfa Triptych”over several years, and “From a Safe Distance” is the final work in the sequence. With this last installment, Reynolds won a Creative Capital Award. Reynolds says of his and director Shawn Sides’ choice to focus on Pancho Villa, “His larger than life figure, a mix of truth and myth, was the most operatic we could ask for.”
Reynolds’ work is both historical and current. Pancho Villa was peripatetic, spending time in the US as well as many parts of Mexico. The well-researched opera explores Villa’s storied past while reminding the viewer of current political debates. Sides says of the opera’s subject, “We wanted to create an expression of what ‘Pancho Villa’ means—to people in Mexico and people in the US, the mythology around him, and the complicated and utterly confusing revolution.” This creative work is a celebration of the US and Mexico, as artists of both nationalities have worked to make this performance come alive. The opera is also performed in Spanish and English.
In his historical exploration of Pancho Villa, Reynolds uses modern artistry to parse the past. “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance” is literally electric, with various strings and percussion instruments forming a chorus of sounds. He calls the opera “a non-linear narrative,” saying, “The piece is more of a collage, pulling from scenes throughout his life to create an impression of his life and times.” During the production, the librettists trace Villa’s biography through song while photographs of him are projected behind the eight musicians.
Indefatigable and controversial, Villa created a name and persona for himself that assures his place in history. Don’t miss this new and electric work that resurrects the multi-cultural spirit of Pancho Villa—“from a safe distance.” To see this historical investigation with modern connections and music, tickets can be purchased from the MSC Box Office online, in person, or by phone. The price is $7 for adults and $5 for students.