An Ode to Santa Barbara’s Roots

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 28, 2021

It’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that Opera Santa Barbara General Director Kostis Protopapas almost single-handedly kept live music alive in town during the worst months of the pandemic. In February, Operation Eurydice, part of Opera Santa Barbara’s Arts Advocacy campaign, created three live music series to bring in-person concerts to the public, with only a tiny portion devoted to operatic singing. OSB’s Balcony Jams and Night Out have fallen by the wayside, but Roar & Pour, which brings two hours of music to the sidewalk and street in front of the Granada every Thursday evening, is still going strong.

Next weekend, though, OSB returns to produce its first opera at the Granada in more than 18 months, kicking off an exciting season that heralds an ambitious new direction for the company with forays into non-traditional works. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”) is a Mariachi opera that tells a timely story of a single family’s journey across borders and decades to come together to make a life and a home. The music is by José “Pepe” Martínez, founder of the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, and will be performed on stage here by Grammy-Award winning Los Angeles-based Mariachi Los Camperos, who played the New York City premiere in 2017 and the 2018 revival in Houston, whose Grand Opera company commissioned the work in 2010.

“Obviously it’s a big departure from Italian opera,” Protopapas said about the musical style that most locals only know from street musicians during Fiesta. “But the musical language is much more congenial to the average audience member than many contemporary pieces. The truth is that it appeals to a much broader spectrum of listeners as it comes from popular music and folk songs. It’s not just for opera lovers; it’s a musical theater piece for everybody.”

The story, Protopapas said, should also be welcome to a wide audience reentering theaters after the long hiatus.

“The immigrant experience is central to the American experience. And it’s a very sweet story, very moving and with a positive message, and it’s an American thing to be optimistic.”  

Protopapas — who has booked several other smaller, new-to-Santa Barbara works at the Lobero before the season closes in May with La Traviata — said the concept of the new season is to be a more nimble opera company that can broaden its reach while expanding its scope and bring more people into the theater to experience operatic works.

“We have a huge Latino population in Santa Barbara that we don’t normally attract. Especially as people are becoming less concerned about the pandemic, this fall should be about celebrating the arts and we want everybody to participate in that. This shows our intent to embrace the whole community rather than a very specific audience that believes opera ended after the 18th century.”

That also comes into play with OSB’s new ticketing policy that not only allows for building individualized premium subscriptions, but also sets aside tickets available on a name-your-own-price basis called, appropriately, You Decide!

“Opera is really expensive to produce, especially if you’re trying to do well,” Protopapas said, noting that the OSB production is conducted by David Hanlon, who led the orchestra for the 2010 Houston premiere, and directed by Octavio Cardenas, who helmed OSB’s Madama Butterfly in 2019.

“So, we didn’t want to offer free or $10 tickets because that’s insulting to both the performers and the audience and communicates a message that this is cheap. Instead, people can make a decision about what this is worth to them, and hopefully put some thought into their relationship with the arts.”

Protopapas certainly has.

Opera Santa Barbara presents the local premiere of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna at the Granada Theatre at 7:30 pm Friday, October 1, and 2:30 pm Sunday, October 3. Call (805) 899-2222 or visit


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