Rudolfo Anaya’s famed novel “Bless Me, Ultima,” one of the most recognizable works of Mexican-American Literature and a book some scholars believed sparked the Chicano literary movement in the late 1960s, is being made into an opera.
National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque announced this week it’s collaborating with Opera Southwest to commission the work based on Anaya’s novel set in 1940s New Mexico about a boy and a traditional healer called a curandera.
The opera will be written by California-based composer Hector Armienta and is slated to be produced in 2018, center executive director Rebecca Avitia confirmed.
Avitia said “Bless Me, Ultima” is a magical piece of literature that would work well as an opera production. “I like the idea of changing the narrative around opera for Latinos,” Avitia said. “This isn’t a genre we’re accustomed to so I think this could open more Latinos to opera.”
Experts say Anaya’s World War II-area novel about a young Mexican American boy’s relationship with an older curandera influenced a generation of Latino writers because of its imagery and cultural references that were rare at the time of its publication.
Despite its popularity on college campuses throughout the years, the novel has been banned in some Arizona schools.
The novel was made into a feature film in 2013.
Anaya, sometimes called the godfather of contemporary Chicano literature, was born in Pastura, New Mexico, and raised in nearby Santa Rosa.
Irene Vasquez, chair of Chicana and Chicano Studies Department at the University of New Mexico, said she was excited that the novel was being adopted into an opera. It is required reading for students in the department, she said.
“This will give our students an incredible opportunity to bring the sounds of a narrative to life,” Vasquez said. “Being able to attend an opera like this will be a great experience.”
Avitia said the opera will be shown in Albuquerque and California.