Describing his opera Sueños de Béjar (Dreams of Bexar), composer Joseph Julián González called it a tragic love story with a happy ending.
“It’s a love story with betrayal, it has redemption, and fights that happen between the different factions,” but it all turns out well in the end, González said.
With the second postponement of Sueños, this time until the 2021 Phase 2 opening of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park project, that’s how González and his Bexar County sponsors hope the actual story of the production turns out.
Getting the production to the stage has become somewhat of an opera in itself. Originally intended as Bexar County’s centerpiece of the Tricentennial Commemorative Week, the production was postponed until October in part due to the San Antonio Symphony’s early 2018 financial travails. County officials redirected $350,000 that had been intended for Sueños and other Tricentennial projects to make a matching grant for the Symphony, which helped stabilize the orchestra.
“As it turned out, the County decided it was very important to use the funds that had been earmarked for the Symphony performance associated with the opera” to assure the Symphony’s survival, said Betty Bueché, Bexar County’s heritage and parks department director. “We’re pleased that it helped them,” she said.
Bueché originally conceived the idea for an opera, to celebrate the initial phase of the San Pedro Creek redevelopment and commemorate the Tricentennial. County officials budgeted funds and commissioned González to compose the work, and the first act of Sueños de Béjar premiered at the 2016 groundbreaking on San Pedro Creek.
Now, however, Sueños must sacrifice again. The opera’s postponement was mentioned almost in passing by County Manager David Smith during a Bexar County Commissioners Court session on Dec. 4, as an agenda item was announced allocating a new $120,000 matching grant to the San Antonio Symphony.
“We wanted the opera to be a contribution to the Tricentennial, but it just didn’t quite work out right,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Instead, most of the $150,000 fee that would have gone to paying the Symphony to perform the opera will instead go to the matching grant, he said.
For Bexar County officials, the realization set in that without funds left in the 2018 budget, the opera would not be performed during the Tricentennial year, Wolff said.
“I was initially disappointed,” González acknowledged. He and his wife, Monique Valadez, the Sueños librettist, had been in a “high-stress situation” meeting their summer production deadline, and family and friends had already scheduled trips to San Antonio for the October premiere.
“Luckily, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s pretty much par for the course,” he said of the delay. His experience in the film and television industry has also taught him that things don’t always go as planned, and operas can take notoriously long to come to fruition. “Tristan and Isolde took 10 years to produce,” González said of the famous 1865 Richard Wagner opera.
Bexar County officials then decided that the opening of the next phase of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park, scheduled for March 2021 and including the new Texas Public Radio headquarters and renovation of the Alameda Theater, would provide the next best opportunity to stage the opera.
County officials liked the idea of staging the opera on the creek, which was central to the formation of Bexar County, Bueché noted, and also liked scheduling the event in conjunction with the next phase of the culture park.
“I think it’ll be a lot more meaningful,” Wolff said. “I would have hoped we’d have been able to do it this year because of the Tricentennial, but I think maybe in the long run it was a better decision to wait for these major events concurring with it. I believe the timing may be a heck of a lot better,” he said.
“I think that’s a brilliant idea, actually,” González said, explaining that the Sueños story is actually about San Pedro Creek, with a “Lady of the Creek” character that represents the waterway so important to the city’s founding. “There’s just so many things that are right about this decision,” he said.
González mentioned that George Frideric Handel’s famous orchestral work Water Music was commissioned for another famous waterway, when Britain’s King George I wanted to commemorate the River Thames in 1717.
“I’m just happy to be part of this great tradition of a city commissioning a composer for a big historic event ,” he said. “So I’m still excited, and I hope it’s for the better. I think it will be,” he said.