We tend to think of oratorios as belonging to the past: large-scale works by Bach and Handel, often on biblical themes.
But a new oratorio by Berkeley composer Jimmy López deals with an urgent issue of our time — one with particular resonance in the Bay Area.
“Dreamers,” composed by López with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, is a dramatic work exploring the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants — in particular, the students and other young people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
Co-commissioned by Cal Performances, the oratorio makes its highly anticipated world premiere Sunday, March 17, in Berkeley in the midst of a three-concert residency by the Philharmonia Orchestra, London. Under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the programs run Friday through Sunday and include works by Sibelius, Bartok, Schoenberg, Bruckner, Salonen and Stravinsky.
López, whose earlier compositions include the 2015 opera “Bel Canto,” based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel about the Lima, Peru, Japanese embassy hostage crisis in 1996-97, settled on the headline-grabbing subject of immigration a few years back. The issue has come increasingly to the fore since then.
The composer, who was born in Lima, Peru and earned his Ph.D. in music from UC Berkeley in 2012 — said the idea for “Dreamers” arose during discussions with Matias Tarnopolsky, then director of Cal Performances. For López, a defining moment came when he learned that Berkeley was the original sanctuary city.
Inspired by the concept of a new work on the immigrant experience, López says he knew immediately that Cruz, his “Bel Canto” librettist, would have to be involved.
Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz provided the libretto for the “Dreamers” oratorio.
“He was a natural choice, because, of course, he’s an immigrant himself,” said the composer. “He’s bilingual, he has a very good awareness of social issues. I wanted to continue our collaboration, taking a different shape, because opera and oratorio are very different.”
Composed for orchestra, chorus, and — in a departure from many oratorios — a single vocal soloist, “Dreamers” unfolds in six movements (the entire work runs about 45 minutes.) The libretto is in English and Spanish. The premiere features Salonen conducting the orchestra and the Bay Area-based chorus Volti. The soloist is soprano Ana María Martinez. Bay Area audiences last heard her in October, as part of San Francisco Opera’s Placido Domingo tribute concert.
“Musically, it’s very grand, and I love Nilo’s language,” said López. “At the beginning, it’s …
Source:: East Bay – Entertainment