No wall could have stopped him.
A bi-lingual opera will tell the story of an enigmatic Mexican revolutionary who reportedly stole from the rich and gave to the poor. “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance” opening at Bric on Jan. 5, will feature a non-linear collage of scenes from the turbulent life of Villa, who led rebellions against several Mexican dictators and narrowly escaped death numerous times before his mysterious assassination in 1923 — all of which made him a larger-than-life figure on both sides of the Mexican-American border, according to the show’s composer.
“Even before he was assassinated, his legend was larger than he was. You go through west Texas or northern Mexico and everyone has a story of how someone in their family was either on Pancho’s side or against,” said Graham Reynolds, who created the show with director Shawn Sides.
The pair came up with the idea in 2013, when they were staying at the Hotel Paso Del Norte in El Paso. The rebel stayed at the hotel at one point, and in 1911 voyeuristic tourists climbed to the roof of the building to watch him fight the Battle of Juárez — on the other side of the Mexican border — through their opera glasses from a safe and comfortable distance.
Those twin stories inspired the opera’s plot and its title, which reflects the leery relationship between both countries, according to Reynolds.
“The whole thing is analogous to today with Americans looking from the border across to Mexico, and also me as a white American composer writing about Pancho,” he said.
Reynolds worked with Mexican librettists Luisa Pardo and Gabino Rodríguez to write the script, which is mostly in Spanish with English subtitles. The Mexico City writers will also perform the score, backed by a six-piece band playing a eclectic mix of Mexican, Texan, classical, and psychedelic rock music.
The show features both true stories and modern legends that have sprung up about Villa, touching both on his protection of the poor, and his ruthless violence against anyone who stood in his way. The opera shows that dichotomy in a scene where Pancho recruits a man for his army, said Reynolds.
“There’s a scene where Pancho went to someone’s house to get a meal and tries to recruit the father who says he has to stay home and take care of his family. So Pancho shoots the family and tells him he is now free to join the army,” Reynolds recounted. Whether fact or fiction, the stories reflect the myths that surround Villa’s life — and his mysterious death, when he was assassinated by a barrage of gun shots while driving home.
“There is a long list of people who would have wanted him dead and it is still a subject of debate who assassinated him,” Reynolds said.
“Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance” at Bric House [647 Fulton St., at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 855–7882, www.brica
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