In less than one week, San Antonio will get to learn the history of San Pedro Creek through song and dance, and (literally) break ground on the creek’s future as a cultural and historical connector of destinations in the city’s downtown.
The first act of John Phillip Santos’ Las Fundaciones de Béjar will give the audience gathered Thursday, Sept. 8 at Fox Tech High School’s football field a glimpse into how San Pedro Creek was a life source for the indigenous groups living along it years ago, and how it was a collision of cultures, religions, and ideas when the native peoples first encountered the Spanish emissaries.
It’s rare that this story is told in popular culture, and even more unique that it’s being told in the form of an operetta, featuring a libretto written by Santos, a musical score by California-based composer Joseph Julian Gonzalez, and vocalists from Opera San Antonio.
“Sure, there have been southern operas and things like that … but in terms of the deep story of North America – that has really not been discussed,” Gonzalez told the Rivard Report Thursday. “This is something I’m very passionate about and I think other people are, too. They want to see their culture reflected in the arts.”
A full orchestra conducted by San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing, as well as 16 children from the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, classical dancers from Ballet San Antonio and Native American dancers from American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions will help bring the mythical performance full circle.
The celebration also will kick off the first annual World Heritage Festival.
Each of the groups have been rehearsing over the past few months and came together Friday night to rehearse together. Gonzalez, who was approached in May to take on the task, said that the entire production has come together rather quickly, but seamlessly. Santos saw his piece Misa Azteca, an eight movement, symphonic oratorio that features indigenous percussion and Aztec poetry, and thought Gonzalez would be perfect for the job.
Gonzalez, who recently took a DNA test and found out he is 39% indigenous, wanted to make Fundaciones an accurate and moving portrayal of the creek’s history. He and Santos met with several community stakeholders and indigenous groups in San Antonio to gather their stories in order to incorporate those perspectives into the operetta.
Gonzalez was inspired by those groups’ “desire to keep their heritage and stories intact,” and the story focuses on how they evolved from the creek, which is a character in itself. It also shows how the indigenous groups were foretold that the Spanish would arrive, forever altering their lives.
“We kind of present all different points of view of what people were kind of expecting,” Gonzalez said. “The dread of it, that their culture would be forever changed, others thinking they’d be there to protect them from invading enemies…They have these big themes that kind of all converge here in San Antonio.”
The final song of the performance portrays that encounter.
“They said they were coming … and nothing will be the same,” the chorus sings, to which the creek character responds, “I will always be with you.”
“The libretto,” Santos previously told the Rivard Report, “is written in a mix of English, Coahuilteca, and Spanish. In short, Puro San Antonio.”
Fundaciones will not only feature Native American dancers, who will perform a two minute “creation dance,” but also a pow wow drum and indigenous shaker in the orchestra.
“You can have all your orchestral colors and your modern orchestral techniques that you use, but by going into Mexican or indigenous instruments and melodic gestures, you’re kind of like an artist who has a wider palette of colors,” Gonzalez said.
Creating the musical score for Fundaciones was a rapid, but thorough process, Gonzalez said. From his home in Baja California, Mexico, he’d send samples to Santos and Lang-Lessing, who’d send back their opinions. It was a lot of reworking and experimentation, he added, but “everyone has been flexible.”
The performance is free and open to the public.
Top image: Classical dancers from Ballet San Antonio practice for the San Pedro Creek groundbreaking ceremony . Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.