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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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June 8, 2024

Pancho Villa puts an nontraditional twist on opera

Photo by Alex Marks
Pancho Villa

The Texas-made opera about the legendary hero Pancho Villa makes its first visit to Texas A&M on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Rudder Theatre.
“Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance” is a bilingual cross-border opera collaboration including Mexico City-based theater collective Lagartijas Tiradas Al Sol, director Shawn Sides and composer Graham Reynolds.
“It’s more open in the way it’s composed than a traditional opera,” Reynolds said. “It’s a mix of a traditional composer score and where each musician makes a lot more of their own decisions. The drum part is not fully written out or the singers work on their own harmonies. The whole thing is collaborative but with me leading it.”
Sides said “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance” is unlike most performances she’s directed due to the fact that the performers, Liz Cass and Paul Sanchez, are also singers.
“They both have backgrounds doing work that one might not strictly call ‘opera,’” Sides said. “They were game to try weird stuff and to spend time working on staging. I’m very grateful for their patience and smarts.”
Reynolds said the idea for this collaboration style began when it was commissioned by Ballroom Marfa, a non-profit art center in Marfa, Texas. Reynolds said they discussed musical reflections of Texas for their commission, but were aware that the Ballroom Marfa wanted an opera. It wasn’t until Reynolds and Sides visited El Paso, where Pancho Villa had stayed and people watched battles of the Mexican Revolution from the rooftop of El Camino Real Hotel, that he was inspired to make Pancho Villa be the focus of the opera.
“As a native Texan, Villa is so legendary,” Sides said. “He didn’t come from the ruling class, and yet he was so incredibly savvy about politics and public opinion.”
The opera is bilingual with parts revolving around the Mexican Revolution in Spanish, Reynolds said. However, subtitles are provided and the English portions of the opera’s story takes place in El Paso.
The Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol theater company created the libretto for “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance.” The group consists of Luisa Pardo and Gabino Rodriguez, who said they wrote an attempt to connect the heritage of the past with present-day perspectives and ideologies.
“Sometimes we need to explain to ourselves what happened in the past to understand our present,” Rodriguez said.
Reynolds said “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance” is relevant in today’s politics because it revolves around the issues surrounding the border between Mexico and the United States.
“This is an opera of a figure who died almost 100 years ago but the piece is extremely relevant to today’s conversation,” Reynolds said. “It’s examining something that’s been controversial and it’s designed to make you question more than it’s designed to give you an answer.”

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