American Lyric Theater has commissioned LA REINA from composer Jorge Sosa and librettist Laura Sosa Pedroza under the auspices of the company’s Composer Librettist Development Program. An electro-acoustic opera with text in Spanish and English, the opera draws its narrative from the drug trade in Mexico and the United States, inspired by some of the most vivid real life players in this increasingly violent war from the past and present, including Sandra Ávila Beltrán, El Guero Palma, El Pozolero, DEA agent Enrique Camarena, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North.
The action of LA REINA centers around Regina, a character inspired by Sandra Ávila Beltrán (known as “The Queen of the Pacific”). As events from her past invade her present reality in an American prison cell, she interacts with the ghosts of the men who have shaped her life. A shrine of La Santa Muerte (a skull and bones incarnation of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of drug dealers) comes to life and acts as Regina’s guide in her journey through her past. La Santa Muerte forces Regina to relive the tragic sequences of death and treason that led to her crowning as the queen of organized crime, and to her eventual downfall and imprisonment.
Musically, LA REINA is being written for classically trained singers and a chamber orchestra of acoustic and electronic forces. Dramatic action will be enhanced by the use of electronic media, which will provide a variety of effects that cannot be achieved from a conventional acoustic orchestra. The electronics will at times enhance the sounds of the acoustic instruments, and at other times will function as an integrated sound design – drawing on practices more commonly associated with film.
The libretto for LA REINA is being developed by Mexican screenwriter Laura Sosa Pedroza in collaboration with the composer. LA REINA is being written with a bilingual libretto in both Spanish and English, reflecting the symbiotic relationship between the US and Mexico, and the shared responsibility of the current drug conflicts. Laura and Jorge explain that, “the dual use of English and Spanish, coupled with the musical language through which these characters are represented, will allow us to depict the voices of those on the border with visceral honesty.”
LA REINA is being commissioned by ALT as part of the company’s initiative to develop works that expand the traditional audience base for opera while confronting critical contemporary issues. The docufiction narrative is drawn from real life events, interweaving complex layers of US and Mexican government involvement in the ongoing war against drugs, narco-terrorists, and the innocent victims of the increasingly violent confrontations that occur all too frequently in Mexico.
In 2010, The New York Times quoted the front-page of El Diario in Ciudad Juarez. The newspaper asked organized crime, “we want you to explain to us what you want from us…You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling.” More than 90,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon began his offensive, with assistance from the US, against criminal organizations in 2006.
Jorge Sosa first brought the idea of LA REINA to American Lyric Theater’s Producing Artistic Director, Lawrence Edelson, in the summer of 2010. Edelson explains that “Jorge has a truly unique voice as a composer. I feel compelled to provide him with the opportunity to develop LA REINA because it is incredibly timely, inherently theatrical, and because it falls outside the boundaries of the type of work many opera companies are willing to explore. LA REINA represents the first full-length opera to be written by Sosa, who has been mentored through ALT’s Composer Librettist Development Program since 2008. I am excited that we can now provide this exceptional artist an outlet through which his personal perspective on opera as provocative social commentary can take shape. His collaboration with Mexican screenwriter and librettist Laura Sosa Pedroza is particularly exciting because of her vibrant work as a story producer and head writer for HBO Latino’s hit series, CAPADOCIA, which tells the stories of several women imprisoned for different reasons in an experimental penal complex. The series has been praised for its harsh, gritty realism, and her collaboration on the libretto will bring an invaluable, deeply informed perspective to LA REINA.”