Opera looks at the impact an immigration raid had on an Iowa town - Albuquerque Journal

Opera looks at the impact an immigration raid had on an Iowa town

Invading with helicopters, buses and vans, the Immigration and Custom Service sent 900 agents to arrest 398 mostly Latino workers at an Iowa meat processing plant in 2008.

A total of 297 of these undocumented immigrants served a five-month prison sentence before being deported back to their home countries, primarily Guatemala.

The Santa Fe Opera production of “Hometown to the World” opens at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

The Santa Fe Opera is presenting the world premiere of the one-act “Hometown to the World,” a work inspired by the raid and its impact on Postville, Iowa. Composed by Laura Kaminsky and librettist Kimberly Reed, the piece has been in development since 2017 through Santa Fe’s Opera for All Voices program.

Director Carmen Flórez-Mansi leapt at the chance to lead “Hometown.” She is the 19-year music director of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi; the show marks her second world premiere. In 2019, Flórez-Mansi directed “Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun” for Santa Fe.

Carmen FLores-Mansi will direct the opera “Hometown to the World” at the Lensic.

The director’s cathedral work often brings her into contact with the lives of immigrant families.

“This was something that was very dear to my heart,” she said.

Three townspeople tell the story: Linda Larson, a member of the Lutheran church who works in its charity food distribution; Linda Morales, a Guatemalan worker whose husband and son have just been deported and Abraham Fleischman; a young Hasidic Jew and a gay man being shunned by his community. Abraham seeks help from Linda Morales, who takes him in despite her ankle bracelet and infant child.

Texas mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert sings the role of Linda Larson. Mexico City mezzo-soprano Cassandra Zoé Velaso is Linda Morales.

“They talk about all kinds of racism and how people make judgments of each other,” Flórez-Mansi said.

A children’s chorus of 12 forms the story’s heartbeat.

Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert.

The opera opens with a sung version of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand/

Glows world-wide welcome.”

“The very final chorus is called ‘Repair the World,’ ” Flórez-Mansi said. “This is modern opera; it’s very challenging music for all. It deals with very difficult subject matter, which is immigration and homosexuality. It is very beautifully written.”

A group of Hasidic Jews brought the small agrarian town of Postville back to economic viability after they moved to Iowa from Brooklyn. One family took over the failing slaughterhouse and its prosperity lured workers from around the globe. Many came in desperation to escape poverty, violence and repressive regimes. Postville evolved into a model of multiculturalism during this renaissance.

The raid devastated the Postville community. The town, with a census population of just 2,273, lost a large percentage of its population due to the arrests. As a result, the meat plant owners filed for bankruptcy in 2008. The city council declared Postville a humanitarian and economic disaster area, but federal officials said the town did not qualify for help.

“Some of the kids in this program have had this happen to them,” Flórez-Mansi said. “So it’s very poignant.”

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