A concert opera based on the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. • Una opera del concierto de acuerdo con la historia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
Composed by James DeMars. Compuesto por James DeMars.
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Alluring lady of the roses
by Ruben Hernandez
Latino Perspectives Magazine- Nov. 2008

Canyon Records is a Phoenix-based label that has specialized in award-winning Native American music for 57 years. A recent release demonstrates that Canyon's quality productions effortlessly cross cultural lines.

On May 17, I attended one of two debut concerts of a two-act opera at the small sanctuary of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Mesa. The new work was Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses, by talented local composer James DeMars. The story was the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego. The opera blended the classical music and languages of three cultures, Aztec, Spanish and Western European. The premiere production featured the best local musicians and singers in the Valley, including Navajo flautist R. Carlos Nakai and world class mezzo-soprano Isola Jones. As the last notes faded I sat awe-struck. I recognized that this new opera was a milestone in the history of contemporary music.

Now you can experience Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses, Canyon's new CD. The operas were recorded, and blended together into a rich production that, while unable to capture the excitement of the live performance, captures the vibrancy of the romantic vocal melodies, haunting strains of indigenous woodwinds and percussion, and dramatic choral harmonies. Go get it and hear the vision.

New classical CDs highlight local musicians's
by Richard Nilsen
Arizona Republic / Dec. 28, 2008

James DeMars: Guadalupe: Our Lady of the Roses'

Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano; Robert Breault, tenor; R. Carlos Nakai, Native American flute; orchestra, James DeMars conducting

Commissioned music often sounds like it, but this opera-oratorio by ASU composer James DeMars, is a complete delight and surprisingly melodic, mixing classical and world-music influences. It tells the story of the vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe seen by an Indian named Juan Diego in 1531 near Mexico City. The music outlines his campaign to have the vision accepted by the Roman Catholic Church and recognized as a miracle. The real miracle is that this Virgin managed to combine Christian iconography with pre-colonial Indian mythology. The performance, with the Native American flute playing of virtuoso Nakai and exemplary singing from its soloists, is both real music and real drama.

As in art, Can Latinos and Anglos, Spanish and English co-exist in Arizona?
by Mayra Nieves, VP Programming
New Radio Venture (KNUV-1190AM Phoenix, Arizona & KNRV-1150AM Denver, Colorado)

The most beautiful answer to this conundrum was proven possible at the opening night of the opera: "Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses," by James DeMars from the University of ASU. Opening night was on Friday, May 16th at the St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Mesa, with the performance of the renown mezzo- soprano Isola Jones, tenor Robert Breault, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, Mexican pre-Columbian music performer Xavier Quijas Yxaytl and African American percussionist Mark Sunkett. This opera presents a magnificent merge of classical voices and instruments, Native and Messo-American flutes and percussion, choral arrangements and African percussion, creating a sublime experience.

Interwoven in Spanish, English and Aztec voices, every note, every tone collaborated to give us one message: Yes, we can live together in Arizona and in any other part of the world if a great number of us embraces our own culture and the culture of the other; if we open our heart to the beauty in each one of our voices; if we allow us to live the experience; and if, as the composer DeMars says, "We examine the fears of leaving one's traditional understanding of the fundamental qualities of life."

The second and last performance will be tonite at 7:30pm.
More info at www.guadalupeopera.com

Guadalupe - opera or oratorio?
by Dimitri Drobatschewsky
Renaissance (Issue No. 86: July-August 2008) - Bulletin of the Art Renaissance Initiative (Phoenix, Arizona)

The world premiere of James DeMars’ new opera, Guadalupe,Our Lady of the Roses, took place on May 16 and 17 at the small sanctuary of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mesa. The venue’s size (it seats about 200)was in marked contrast with the importance of the event: not only are there not too many musical milestones by local composers, but the impact that the musical rendition of the legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe left at the opening performances was major. The fact that these performances were presented in Mesa bodes well for the cultural aspirations of this rapidly evolving East Valley community.

Whether this remarkable work can be called an opera or some other art form, such as an oratorio, is open for discussion. The performances were not staged but were presented in concert form, i.e. the soloists were placed midway in the orchestra and sat on chairs when they were not singing. The orchestra was mostly youthful (primarily music students) and some exotic instruments were visible (and audible) besides the usual strings and a few winds. In musically blending at least two different cultural traditions, composer DeMars avoided one of the frequent pitfalls of original contemporary music: that of producing a palette of novel sounds, overwhelming in their decibels but deadly to the conventional musical beauty of familiar orchestrations.

Because the action in this opus is minimal – the libretto tells mostly of religious visions as well as emotions experienced at the unveiling of such visions – conventional operatic staging was not missed. The impact, rather, was achieved through masterful execution of the score that blends the sounds of Native American–Aztec–lore with the more familiar melodic developments of Western music. And the artistry of the excellent vocal soloists, primarily mezzo-soprano Isola Jones and tenor Robert Breault, contributed mightily to the sometimes overwhelming inner tremors experienced in hearing this extremely emotional music.

Both Ms. Jones and Mr. Breault projected powerful fortissimos, notably in the first half of the performance. If one bit of critical comment may be appropriate, I would suggest that when music is constantly performed at such high power, it is difficult to achieve majestic climaxes. Often, strong feelings can be just as convincingly expressed through soft passages, such as the unforgettable aria sung by Ms. Jones at the end of the first act, when she produced a number of bars in a divine pianissimo that will haunt this listener for a long time.

The piece was sung in at least two languages (English and Spanish) with a few Aztec words mixed in. Fortunately, the lights were left on so that following the provided text in the program was possible. The composer, DeMars, also acted as conductor and presided energetically and authoritatively over the proceedings. Besides the already mentioned vocalists, baritone Robert Barefield exhibited a warm although sometimes veiled voice in his arias, and soprano Carole Fitzpatrick contributed self-assured passages that were well-projected and highly pleasing. A smaller role was competently sung by Fr. Jorge Rodriguez Eagar.Not to be overlooked are the contributions of the “exotic” instruments: the didgeridoo (an Australian wind pipe) played by Michael Hester; the Native American flute in the hands of R. Carlos Nakai; and various Aztec flutes and percussion instruments entrusted to Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. Robert Mills, besides preparing the excellent chorus, also performed on the piano, and veteran Mark Sunkett handled familiar and sometimes strange percussion instruments. Co-librettist Robert Doyle supervised a live recording for the Canyon Records label, also alerted the audience that he wanted to produce noise-free and cellular-phone-ringtone-less recording.

The Miracle of Roses & Santa Maria
by Moon Child
The Whole Music Experience- Saturday, July 11, 2009

Opera, oratorio and music for mass present a variety of challenges to composers and performers. American composer James DeMars, who is no stranger to Canyon Records or indigenous music has combined structure from opera, oratorio and mass with his opera, Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses. He brings in R. Carlos Nakai (Native American flute) and Xavier Quijas Yxayotl (flutes, whistles of the Aztecs) to represent the indigenous people of Mexico at the time of of the Renaissance and conquistadors in the New World. The opera vocalists, chorus and orchestra represent the Spanish, the Indians, The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Catholic Church.

The brief synopsis reads, "A story of the three apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the hills of Tepeyac above Tlatelolco in 1531, the appeals of Juan Diego-Cuatlatohuac to the Bishop Zumarraga for a temple at the site of the visions, the revelation of the miraculous portrait and inspiration of peace and trust." This story might also recall the stories behind the Lady of Fatima and the Lady of Lourdes, among many sightings of the Virgin Mary and miracles associated. This too is a story of miracles, peace and benediction.

For those readers familiar with early music, indigenous music, classical, opera and music of the Catholic Church will most appreciate this complex, spiritual and even enlightening recording. Much of the opera reflects oratorios from the Baroque era in which the vocalists and chorus perform in a recitative style, except for arias sung by Robert Breault (Juan Diego), Isola Jones (Lady of Guadalupe) and Robert Barefield (The Bishop). The narrator sings what appears to be antiphon without a response. Antiphons and polyphony, two proponents of renaissance music of the Catholic Church appear when both the church officials and Diego's own people turn against him at the end of Act 1 and in Act 2.

The orchestra arrangements provide both dissonance and gorgeous harmonies. The dissonance appears when the Bishop and Diego's people turn against or make demands on him. I am not an expert in atonal music, but some of the passages reflect Arnold Schoenberg's work. I have also been listening to Leonard Bernstein's music for Westside Story lately which reminds me to the extent James DeMars compositions fit into American classical. Similar to Bernstein's jagged edged jazz-classical in the prologue and The Jets Song in Westside Story, some of the orchestra arrangements possess jagged edges in DeMars work. I was even reminded of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with some bluesy passages sung by Carole FitzPatrick (La Malinche) towards the end of the opera.

The music for the opera must reflect on religious, spiritual, and indigenous themes as well as, hope, faith and miracles. There is also the test of faith that Diego faces with his own people turning against him and the Bishop attempting to shame him due to his lowly upbringing. Tension contrasts with light and compassion. Certain arias such as It Passes By and Paint For Us Times To Come sung by Jones and the gorgeous Sunrise Song sung by Breault offer door openers to blessings and miracles because no doubt if a listener has been following the libretto closely and finding him or herself fully engaged in the music, a shift in consciousness, even a small one will most likely be the result.

DeMars and all the people involved with this opera deserve a standing ovation, which I am sure they received at the performance which premiered at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Mesa, Arizona on May 16 and 17, 2008. Opera works best as a live performance in the right venue with the an alchemical lineup of vocalists and musicians. Listening to this recording on headphones (at a safe volume) is also recommended since it becomes easier to follow the dual languages, the polyphony and the story when heard through headphones.

Hopefully this opera will tour major cities and expose this brilliant bridge between Christians and indigenous peoples as well as, an amazing composition that includes indigenous instruments along with European classical ones. In the same vein that George Gershwin combined jazz and blues elements in his classical work and Aaron Copland included American folkloric music, DeMars brings in American Indian musical elements while creating a work that blurs the lines between oratorio, opera and music for mass. 

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