Aztec Ruler's Epic Opera in Nahuatl Triumphs in Mexico City
The epic tale of the fearless Aztec ruler, who bravely repelled Spanish invaders half a millennium ago, took center stage this week at one of Mexico City's renowned theaters. In a groundbreaking performance, the opera's cast eschewed European languages and instead resounded with songs in the ancient imperial tongue of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, which is still spoken by millions of indigenous Mexicans today. To assist the audience, Spanish-language supertitles were displayed above the stage at the magnificent Fine Arts Palace.
The opera narrates the saga of King Cuitlahuac, the penultimate Aztec emperor, who led a valiant resistance against Spanish soldiers and their indigenous allies in 1520. His uprising resulted in the demise of hundreds of invaders and forced many more to flee, laden with stolen treasures, to save their lives.
Composer Samuel Zyman, the mastermind behind the opera titled "Cuitlahuatzin," which utilizes a more formal version of the king's name, expressed his aspiration to reclaim various aspects through this production. Despite Cuitlahuac's heroic feats, Zyman acknowledged that he remains less celebrated than his elder brother, King Moctezuma, who fell the day before the revolt, according to an early colonial account.
Zyman passionately advocates for broadening the horizons of opera, challenging the notion that it should be confined to European languages like Italian or French. He asserts that "Cuitlahuatzin" is a distinctly Mexican narrative, and thus, it rightly deserves to be presented in the Aztec language.
The opera's mesmerizing performance featured actors adorned in native costumes, donning face paint and majestic feather headdresses. The atmosphere was enriched by the resonant beats of native drums and the haunting echoes of conch shells, complemented by a modern orchestra at the rear of the stage.
While the availability of future showings remains uncertain, those in attendance, many of whom experienced their first-ever Nahuatl opera, were profoundly moved by Cuitlahuac's captivating tale. Nina Alvarez, who had just left the performance, described it as truly extraordinary, praising not only the staging and dance performances but also the deeply emotional storytelling.