The title tells you everything you need to know about El Jinete. It’s a mariachi opera: a tribute to mid-century Mexican cinema, filled with soulful ballads, enormous hats, cheesy acting and the power of love. If that sounds like a good time, then this SummerWorks show will make your month; if that description sets your teeth on edge (“90 minutes of Mexican folk music? Ay dios mio, kill me now…”), you should run far away.
And in the unlikely event that you’re still on the fence, let me nudge you off: this is a very, very good show, and — if you aren’t turned off by the Mariachi angle — it’s entirely worth a ticket
True to its billing, El Jinete is an opera, told almost entirely through a series of 13 musical sequences. The show is presented in Spanish; there are English surtitles, but the plot is so simple that you can safely ignore them: the white hat is the good guy, the black hat is the bad guy, and the girl is the girl. Everything else is gravy.
However, while the story is small and tidy, the Mexican flavour is a surprise, especially a harrowing sequence where Alexandra Wever plays the spirit of death, and a few wry observations about life in “el Norte”. The titular mariachis, played by members of Vancouver’s Mariachi El Dorado, play extremely well and fill the room with beautiful music which — to my ears, at least — never grew repetitive.
Jamie Nesbitt’s projections add significant value to the show, and several of his effects drew gasps of surprise from the audience. This being said, the semitransparent shim installed between the audience and the stage seems like more trouble than it’s worth, and could probably have been cut entirely.
What really struck me about El Jinete is how exotic it feels — and how weird that is. Mexican culture has bled into Canada, but most of what we get is the Taco Bell version: funny hats and doofy accents and traditional Mexican delicacies like french fries with cheese sauce. To see a heartfelt and surprisingly sophisticated tribute to something we think we already know (I mean, how deep can mariachi be?) is an interesting sort of wake-up call, and a reminder that there’s more to this country than what fits in a burrito.
El Jinete — A Mariachi Opera plays through Saturday, August 16th at Theatre Passe Muraille. (26 Ryerson Ave., near Queen and Bathurst)
Sunday August 10, 12:00pm
Tuesday August 12, 7:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 4:30pm
Thursday August 14, 9:30pm
Saturday August 16, 5:00pm
All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-907-0468, or in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Production photograph by Itai Erdal.