OPERA SYNOPSIS

with audio excerpts

The Setting: Late summer 2012, the Aragon village of Borja, Spain, during the depths of the Great Recession

 

Cast of Characters

  • CECILIA: (mezzo-soprano) The fresco’s “restorer,” Marcos’ mother
  • BEATRIZ: (contralto) Cecilia’s sister
  • THE Artist Martinez: (baritone) The ghostly presence of the long-dead artist who painted the original fresco
  • MAYOR: (tenor) The town’s bombastic leader
  • MARCOS: (tenor) Cecilia’s son, Adriana’s husband
  • SILVIA: (soprano) Marcos’ teenage daughter
  • ARTURO: (baritone or mezzo) Silvia’s young lover
  • OLD PRIEST: (bass) Long-time parish priest and Cecilia’s dear friend
  • ADRIANA: (soprano) Marcos’ wife, granddaughter of the Artist Martinez

 

Act I


Scene 1

In the church we find CECILIA with her sister BEATRIZ at their morning devotion. Cecilia reveals she’s had a dream in which the Lord has come to her urging the restoration of the badly deteriorated and long-ignored “ECCE HOMO” fresco. Beatriz is concerned her sister might not have the skill nor permission to undertake the job. The scene ends with the introduction of the ghost of THE ARTIST MARTINEZ, the fresco’s 1930 originator, who bemoans the lack of respect his work has been shown.

Scene 2

In the plaza the MAYOR addresses the townspeople about their economic crisis and strategies to improve tourism. MARCOS informs the gathering that as a gift to his wife on their anniversary he will commission the restoration of the “Ecce Homo” fresco painted by her grandfather. The Mayor latches onto the idea that this will be good for the town. No one else shares his optimism. By the meeting’s end Marcos hands off the money for the restoration to OLD PRIEST who is charged with finding the proper restorer.

Scene 3

Alone in the church Cecilia studies the fresco and prays she will have the courage—and strength of eyesight—to do the work the Lord has bid her to do.

On his way back to the church, Old Priest reveals the fresco has very little artistic value and he may cut corners in the selection of the restorer. When he finds Cecilia he makes her swear that if she proceeds she must never divulge it was her work. She promises he won’t be disappointed.

Scene 4

In the plaza Marcos laments the state of the economy and the imminent demise of his struggling hotel.

And when his aunt Beatriz happens upon him affixing a “For Sale” sign we learn that it was his mother, Cecilia, who loaned him the start-up cash for the venture and the shame he feels in not being able to repay her has caused their estrangement. 

Scene 5

In the hat shop that bears his name Artist Martinez reminisces on the holidays he spent in Campo de Borja in the 1920s; as a young man selling hats, teaching art, and drinking the local wine.

When the young lovers, SILVIA and ARTURO, arrive to open the shop they rue their tough luck coming of age in such dark economic times. Soon ADRIANA, and the town’s wealthiest woman, makes her grand entrance late again for the Mayor’s weekly meeting. We soon learn she has been recently diagnosed with a most serious disease—that of having too much money.

When Marcos arrives and tells her of his gift she is nonplussed, except to say she’ll be happy to see her grandfather’s fresco restored—as long as it’s not the work of his mother.

Scene 6

Back in the church Cecilia begins the restoration of the “Ecce Homo” as a concerned Artist Martinez looks on. While he’s anxious to see his work restored he’s not certain Cecilia’s the one for the job. And of course he’s right, for soon things go terribly wrong. And while he attempts to stop her he cannot. At the curtain, the fresco is in a state of great transformation.

 

End of Act I

Act II

 

Scene 1

The next morning a throng of townspeople have gathered in the church. A sheet covers the “Ecce Homo” as Old Priest stonewalls, standing guard as if at a crime scene. In a quick maneuver Arturo slips off the fresco’s veil producing a gasp of great horror. A mob forms to find Cecilia, the suspected perpetrator, while Arturo and Silvia take a “selfie” and post it to Facebook.

Scene 2

When the church is empty a distraught and disheveled Cecilia reveals herself from behind a pew, followed by a worse-for-wear Martinez. Old Priest enters and reminds Cecilia of her vow not to divulge that she was the restorer. But when her son enters she immediately confesses to the crime. With that, the first wave of TOURISTS storm into the church in search of the “Potato Head Jesus” they’ve seen online.

Scene 3

In the Plaza more tourists arrive as internet MEMES circle the globe. But how should the town respond? Cover the fresco and lock the church? With courage and conviction Arturo steps forward to present a grand idea—Let’s make the most of this! When Cecilia arrives to deliver her mea culpa Beatriz comes to her defense. And with growing awareness, Artist Martinez begins to accept his role in what’s unfolding.

Scene 4

Back in the church, Silvia and her ghostly grandfather clean up some family business as amends are made and wounds are healed. Marcos suggests to Adrianna that as bad as his mother’s work has turned out, the economy is thriving and his hotel is full. Alone now in the church, Old Priest confesses to Cecilia that he used Marcos’ money not for himself, but to support his aged wife in the nursing home.

Scene 5

In the plaza, facing a multitude of tourists, the townspeople joyfully celebrate their good fortune.

 

With that, the Mayor proclaims Cecilia the town’s new hero and Silvia serenades her grandmother.

So as not to disappoint, Adriana for a final time crashes the party—this time insisting on royalties as Martinez’ heir. But it’s the mayor who drops the bomb since it’s not the church, nor the Martinez family, nor even Cecilia who owns the fresco, but the city! And our sage leader offers the ultimate solution; that all four parties should profit equally. By the scene’s end Marcos repays his mother and the pair have a powerful coming together.

Scene 6

Beatriz joins Cecilia in the church for worship as they did in ACT I, Scene 1. Artist Martinez shows up dressed for traveling, relieved that respect has finally been shown him and confident he can now cast off his earthly ties and move on. For the finale, Cecilia and Beatriz lead the full cast in song with text from I Corinthians.