The groundbreaking ceremony for the first phase of the $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project will take place on Thursday, Sept. 8 at Fox Tech High School’s football field. The celebration will also kick off the first annual World Heritage Festival.
The evening’s program will include speeches by Mayor Ivy Taylor, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2), and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), but the heart of the celebration will lie in the performance of the first act of John Phillip Santos’ Las Fundaciones de Béjar, a mythical opera that portrays the history and legacy of San Pedro Creek.
Santos, a documentary filmmaker, producer, author and San Antonio native, said that the opera invokes a universal story rooted in the historical origins of the Alamo city.
“Act 1 (of an anticipated trilogy) begins with the creation of the world, the emergence of nature, and the first nations of these lands, and ends with the climactic moment when the first peoples and travelers from New Spain first encounter each other,” he added.
“The main character is the San Pedro Creek herself, imagined here as an earth spirit who sees past, present, and future.”
At the beginning of the opera, the earth spirit is honored by the first people who are led by a seer. During the celebration, a woman from a neighboring nation warns them that the Spaniards are coming to change their way of life as well as their religion. While the villagers anticipate a big change, two Spanish emissaries are making their way toward them. The act ends when the two meet.
“The opera is mythic in style, and mestizo in tone, as California-based composer Joseph Julian Gonzalez’s composition ranges from dissonant, post-modern strains to evocations of indigenous musical traditions and the baroque stylings of the grand Iberian musical legacy,” Santos explained.
Project partner and founder of Opera Piccola of San Antonio Mark Richter said when Fundaciones was initially conceived and presented to the County it was a small project. It quickly evolved into an artistic collaboration of grand proportions when the “dream team” of Santos, Gonzalez and his wife Monique came together alongside an array of local arts organizations.
“Thanks to (Bexar Heritage & Parks Department Director) Betty Bueché, Nelson Wolff and the County Commissioners, the San Antonio River Authority, the city’s Tricentennial Commission and a host of other department heads, the small project that once was imagined grew into a major presentation of music, drama, and our history,” Richter said. “This is the first time so many County-funded arts groups are working collaboratively to build this artistic showpiece.”
The opera, which has an expected runtime of 31 minutes, is backed by a 40-piece orchestra conducted by San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing. The accompanying chorus is comprised of 24 professional singers and 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 provide the visual, aesthetic interpretation of Santos’ vision with Opera San Antonio.
The performance is free and open to the public.
“The libretto,” Santos said, “is written in a mix of English, Coahuilteca, and Spanish. In short, Puro San Antonio.”
Top Image: Portion of San Pedro Creek downstream of Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Co.