America Tropical

AMERICA TROPICAL  Music by David Conte Libretto by Oliver Mayer commissioned by Thick Description, San Francisco, CA

Music by David Conte
Libretto by Oliver Mayer
commissioned by Thick Description, San Francisco, CA

Piano/Vocal score available at the Schirmer website.


SIQUEIROS – the painter of the mural “America Tropical” (Baritone-  Martin)
LARA – Pobladores leader/worker (Tenor)
MARIA SOLEDAD – a Mexican peasant woman, wife of MORENO (Soprano)
MORENO – Pobladores/worker/ husband of MARIA SOLEDAD (Tenor)
HOLLIDAY/MESA – a plumber/pobladoro/worker (filmed the beating of Rodney King); a Pobladoro in scene one (Bass-baritone)
CAMERO – Pobladoro/worker (Baritone)
NAVARRO – Pobladoro/worker (Bass-Baritone)
The INDIA – the crucified figure at the center of the mural “AmericaTropical” (Soprano)

ORCHESTRA (parts available on rental from the publisher)

Bb Clarinet (doubling A Clarinet; Bass Clarinet)
Double Bass

Chad Runyon, bass-baritone

Antoine Garth, Tenor; Sibel Demirmen, Soprano; ensemble


"... an ingenious tale dealing with the tumultuous founding of Los Angeles, using a 1930s mural painted by David Alfaro Siquieros in the 1930s as its take-off point... with its emotionally gripping music, timely story and clever, often surprising, staging, it certainly merits a second run.
- Cheryl North, Oakland Tribune
"..ambitious opera premiere connects L. A.'s divided past to a hopeful often compelling folk opera meditation on race, class, and other social divisions...engaging and intriguing...
- Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle
"Conte (whose beautiful, ghostly desert opera Firebird Motel was commissioned and produced by Thick Description) has fashioned a score featuring serrated melody lines and lush choral harmonies to augment the work's three centuries, succinctly blended in Mayer's libretto. The music moves determinedly forward through alternately agitated, wistful, angelic, and angry passages..."
- Robert Avila, The San Francisco Bay Area Guardian
Conte's score, with its hints of George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and the chamber music of Dmitri Shostakovich, is as colorful as anything painted by Siqueiros. The composer's use of glittering flute scales... (enthralls) the listener with its beauty..."
- Chloe Veltman, San Francisco Weekly


Scene One – The Torna Atras (The Throw-Aways)

Los Angeles, 1932. The Mexican muralist SIQUEIROS surveys a blank wall that will become the canvas for his latest artwork “America Tropical.” (Tell Me What A Wall Can Do...") As he wonders how the as-yet uncreated images will reflect not only the past history but the future of Los Angeles and its citizens, --

The original POBLADORES (Founders) of the City arrive, circa 1781, at the last leg of a 1,000 mile journey, (We've Come A Thousand Miles...) and begin to build their settlement. The Spaniard LARA and the Indian MARIA SOLEDAD, ask for the blessing of the Virgin Mary, but Maria Soledad’s husband Black carpenter MORENO questions their faith. Lara and Moreno differ on the casta system, the taxonomy that categorizes a person based on the percentage of Spanish blood in his family (From Spanish and Indian a Mestiza is Born...). As the battles lines between them are drawn, --

Scene Two – The Double Cross

Siqueiros begins to create his image, using themes and images from 1781. As he works, --
HOLLIDAY appears, circa 1991, video handycam in hand, in South Los Angeles. (Catch The Moments Before They Go Wherever Moments Go...) Now all three time periods begin to meld. As Siqueiros propositions Maria Soledad, Lara and his henchmen arrest and beat Moreno in front of the Cross he built to honor the founding of the City. Holliday uses his handycam to witness the attack, which resembles the beating of Rodney King. Refusing the advances of Siqueiros, Maria Soledad approaches Moreno, who cannot understand why he was beaten. (Were You There When They Beat Me To The Ground?) As all their faith is tested, --

Scene Three – Twelve Minutes

Holliday, circa 1992, muses over the twelve minutes of evidence of the videotaped beating and its consequences on the entire city. As Los Angeles burns, the citizens of Los Angeles, past and future, come together to reaffirm their beliefs (We Believe A Good Life is Possible on Earth). But Moreno cannot put his faith in organized belief or progress. Siquerios, working feverishly, now reveals the full “America Tropical” mural with an INDIA crucified upon a Double Cross, for everyone to see. Moreno sees a symbol of his own pain. But Maria Soledad sees the blessing, even in the symbolism. As she prays to it, the India comes to life and blesses the citizens of Los Angeles (Blessings on this City/Blessings on this Life).

Scene Four – The Sweet Inside

Given new life, Maria Soledad tells Siqueiros that his mural has missed the heart of the people. Taking the aspect of the Virgin Mary, she helps the India off the Cross. The people of Los Angeles come together with a new understanding of their limitations and possibilities. As Siqueiros moves on, and his mural is destroyed, the People reaffirm their lives and loves. as citizens, here and now (Reprise: From Spanish and Indian a Mestiza is Born). Maria Soledad has the last word: (We Live Here and Now).