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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The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego

December 9, 1531 (Saturday).  Early in the morning, Juan Diego, a Chicameca convert to Christianity in his fifties, is on his way to attend Mass at Tlatelolco, the site of the final battle of the Spanish conquest ten years earlier.  As he passes Tepeyac Hill, Juan Diego hears music and a woman's voice calling to him.  At the crest of the hill he sees a radiantly beautiful woman, who reveals that she is Our Lady, the Mother of God.  She instructs Juan Diego to go to the local bishop and tell him that a temple should be built in her honor at the base of the hill.

Juan Diego proceeds directly to Tlatelolco and the palace of Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, a Franciscan friar.  The bishop receives him, but is reluctant to believe Juan Diego's story. A discouraged Juan Diego returns to Tepeyac Hill, and admits his failure to Our Lady. She directs him to again go to the bishop, and repeat her request.

December 10, 1531 (Sunday).  Juan Diego returns to the bishop's palace. The bishop questions him for a long time, and finishes by telling Juan Diego that he needs a sign to believe that Our Lady sent him.  On his return to Tepeyac Hill Juan Diego tells her of the bishop's demand.  She promises to fulfill it the next day when Juan Diego visits her again.

December 11, 1531 (Monday).  Juan Diego fails to go to Tepeyac Hill, because his uncle has become gravely ill.  Juan Diego spends the day looking for someone with healing skills, but fails in his search.  He tells his dying uncle that he will go to Tlatelolco the next morning to return with a priest to hear his final confession.

December 12, 1531 (Tuesday).  At a very early hour, Juan Diego rushes to Tlatelolco to find a priest for his uncle.  Not wanting to encounter Our Lady because he missed her the day before, and not wanting to be delayed in his search for a priest, Juan Diego takes a path on the other side of the hill.  However, Our Lady comes directly down the hill to meet him. She listens to Juan Diego's excuse for not keeping his appointment and tells him, "Your uncle will not die of this sickness; he is healthy."  She instructs him to go to the hill top and gather the flowers he finds there.  Juan Diego obeys and discovers a miraculous garden of Castilian roses which he gathers and takes to her.  She arranges the roses in his tilma (a coarse cloak made from cactus fibers), and tells Juan Diego to take them to the bishop as the sign he requested.

When Juan Diego arrives before the skeptical Bishop Zumárraga, he opens his tilma and the roses fall to the floor.  However, Juan Diego has more than roses as a sign, for a portrait of Our Lady appears on the coarse fabric of the tilma. The bishop and his whole household are filled with amazement.  The Bishop and people fulfill Juan Diego's request, and build a temple dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Librettists' Note One:  The Dramatic Context

The libretto for "Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses," while following the general outline of the traditional story of Juan Diego's encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe, differs in some points for dramatic and musical reasons.  The changes were made with much consideration, and with full respect to the traditional story and the beliefs of the many who cherish it. 

The libretto compresses the story time into a twenty-four hour period from dawn on Saturday to sunrise on Sunday.  This time line puts Juan Diego's greatest crisis in the darkness of night and the resolution of the miracle on Sunday morning.  To heighten dramatic tension, Bishop Zumárraga and the people have been given the function as skeptical and increasingly hostile antagonists to Juan Diego and his efforts to fulfill his mission.  The character of the ambiguous La Malinche has been brought to the forefront to create a balancing soprano voice to the mezzo-soprano Our Lady of Guadalupe, the tenor Juan Diego, and baritone Bishop Zumárraga.

The characterization of Our Lady was designed to emphasize her similarities to Juan Diego.  This choice was made not to diminish her sanctity or stature, or minimize the devotion given to her by countless millions through the millennia, but to emphasize her essential humanity.  Through relating to her on a human basis, Juan Diego's love and trust in her blossoms.  His encounter with Our Lady is simultaneously mystical and prosaic. We must remember that Roman Catholic theology teaches that Mary is not divine, but the ultimate sanctified human.

While the Gospels have little to say about the life of Mary, we can make reasonable surmises about her.  When pregnant with Jesus, Mary was a young Jewish woman living in the provincial backwater of Judea under the rule of a harsh invader, imperial Augustan Rome. Like Juan Diego's, Mary's society was in constant turmoil as an imperialistic invader tried to control a restless, conquered people. 

Mary's family must have been of modest means, her father most likely a farmer, small tradesman or craftsmen. Like Juan Diego, her clothes were probably simple, and she most likely went around in sandals or even on bare feet.  In an age when literacy was rare for men and rarer for women, it cannot be assumed that she knew how to read. Mary's skin was most likely dark, like most women of desert Judea.  It should be noted that the role of Our Lady was written specifically for mezzo-soprano Isola Jones, who is of African American and Native American ancestry.

Ultimately, because Mary is not different from him, Juan Diego can relate to her and love her on human to human basis, not as subject to queen or servant to goddess.  It is through this common humanity and shared experience that Juan Diego is transformed by his experience with divine, and becomes its messenger to his people and Church. 

The interlude of the dying uncle was deleted to maintain emphasis on the growing conflict between Juan Diego and an increasingly hostile and autocratic Bishop and the growing mob violence of the people.  This conflict, with its threat of mortal consequences for the protagonist, is the fire in which Juan Diego's faith and love of Our Lady is tested and purified.  Arising from his struggles with fear and doubt, and supported by Our Lady's belief and trust in him, Juan Diego becomes the vehicle for the personal transformation of the Bishop and the people, and the establishment of a new society.

"Credo" is Latin for "I believe," but an examination of its Indo-European roots uncovers a hidden and richer meaning.  Credo is comprised of two sounds; "cre" meaning "heart" (analogous to the French word "coeur"), while "do" means "to place" (the root for words like donate).  Thus, the word which we translate into English as "I believe" ultimately means "I place in my heart."  In this sense, this libretto was written to present Juan Diego as a humble man whose belief came from his heart, a simple man of faith not needing miracles to believe, trust, and love his Lady.

Librettists' Note Two: The Historical Context

In addition to the rich spiritual meanings and layers to the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a distinct socio-political meaning exists.  Many consider this story a peace treaty between the conquered natives of Azteca and the overlords from imperial Spain.  The image of Our Lady, with it syncretic blend of Catholic Christian and Aztec symbolism, provided common ground for these two antagonistic cultures, and was instrumental to the formation a new society. 

The Historical Background to the Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe

According to traditional Catholic accounts of the Guadalupan apparition, during a walk from his village to the city on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw a vision of a Virgin at the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in Nahuatl, Our Lady of Guadalupe asked him to build an abbey at that site. When Juan Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the bishop asked him for a miraculous sign to prove his claim. The Virgin asked Juan Diego to gather flowers, even though it was winter when no flower bloomed. He found Castillian roses, gathered them on his tilma, and presented these to bishop Zumárraga. When he presented the roses to Zumárraga, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe miraculously appeared imprinted on the cloth.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is often read as a coded image. Miguel Sanchez, the author of the 1648 tract "Imagen de la Virgen María," described the Virgin's image as the Woman of the Apocalypse from the New Testament's Revelation 12:1: "arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." Mateo de la Cruz, writing twelve years after Sánchez, "argued that the Guadalupe possessed all the iconographical attributes of Mary in her Immaculate Conception". Likewise, a 1738 sermon preached by Miguel Picazo argued that the Guadalupe was the "best representation" of the Immaculate Conception.

Many writers, including Patricia Harrington and Virgil Elizondo, describe the image as containing coded messages for the indigenous people of Mexico.

"The Aztecs...had an elaborate, coherent symbolic system for making sense of their lives. When this was destroyed by the Spaniards, something new was needed to fill the void and make sense of New Spain...the image of Guadalupe served that purpose." 

Her blue-green mantle was described as the color once reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl; her belt is read as a sign of pregnancy; and a cross-shaped image symbolizing the cosmos and called nahui-ollin is said to be inscribed beneath the image's sash.

A number of documents support the apparition account. In 1648 Miguel Sanchez, a diocesan priest of Mexico City, published the book "Imagen de la Virgen Maria, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe." This version was written in Spanish and contains the first presently known account of the Mexican appearances of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Sanchez's story was written mainly for Mexican-born Spaniards and contains long sections of biblical analogy. 

However, the most important version of the apparition account may be the Nahuatl-language "Huei tlamahuiçoltica" ("The Great Event") which contains "Nican mopohua" ("Here it is recounted"), a tract about the Virgin which contains the aforementioned story. It also includes two other sections: "Nican motecpana" ("Here is an ordered account") which describes fourteen miracles connected with Our Lady of Guadalupe and "Nican tlantica ("Here ends") which gives an account of the Virgin in New Spain. "Huei tlamahuiçoltica" closely mirrors the Sanchez narrative, but contains no biblical analogies. It is also composed of a more fully developed dialogue due to Nahuatl custom and manners in speech patterns. "Huei tlamahuiçoltica" is said to have been written by Antonio Valeriano in 1556; it was printed in Nahuatl by Luis Lasso de la Vega in 1649.

The apparition account is also supported by a document called the "Informaciones Jurídicas" of 1666, a collection of oral interviews gathered near Juan Diego's hometown of Cuautitlan. In this document various witnesses affirm, in interview format, details about Juan Diego and the Guadalupan apparition story. 

Encounters similar to Juan Diego's early morning vision on a hilltop where a Lady appears and asks for a Church to be built on that hill. His vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in many aspects similar to the case of Saint Bernadette Soubirous's reported vision of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. Both reported a miraculous Lady on a hill who asked them to request that the local priests build a chapel at the site of the vision. Both visions included a reference to roses and led to large churches being built at the sites. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, Our Lady of Lourdes is a major Catholic symbol in France.

A simple, 14 year old peasant girl of no significant education, Bernadette Soubirous reported her vision of a women in white, who said, Que soy L'Immaculado concepciou, I am the Immaculate Conception and asked that a church be built there. Ridiculed, questioned, belittled by Church officials and other contemporaries, she firmly but modestly insisted on her vision. Eventually the Church believed her and she was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933. Over time, many churches were built on that hilltop (one of them, the Basilica of St. Pius X can accommodate 25 thousand people) and Lourdes is now a major Marian pilgrimage site.

The three Portuguese children, Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto were equally young and without much education when they reported the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917. The local administrator initially jailed the children and threatened that he would boil them one by one in a pot of oil. Eventually, with millions of Roman Catholic believers, the reported visions at Fatima gathered respect and after a canonical enquiry the visions of Fatima were officially declared "worthy of belief" in October 1930 by the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima. Popes Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II voiced their acceptance of the supernatural origin of the Fatima events.


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