Juego de Tronos, or “Game of Thrones,”Aztec style! It came long before the setting of the epoch television blockbuster.
It will re-appear to us soon in the form of “Malinalli.” This original musical, like the TV show, extols politics and power, drama and death, love and loss. Its focus is the Mother of Mexico, Malinalli (sometimes called Malinche).
Book and lyrics are by Dr. Robert Paul Moreira, Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, Texas, (UTRGV). Music is also by Dr. Moreira and Mr. Josiah David Esquivel, UTRGV Music major and two-time Engaged Scholar Award recipient. Vocal Director is Sandra Barba, Spring 2019 Engaged Scholar Awardee. The production will be co-directed by Brianna Ramírez and Daniela Lozano, UTRGV and South Texas College Theater majors, respectively.
The concert workshop of the complete musical will be premiered Thursday, May 2nd, 2019, starting at 7:00 p.m. and finishing at 10 p.m., at UTRGV’s Jeffers Theater in the Round (Communication Building). The production is in English, Jesse Martinez conducting the seven-piece orchestra. Admission is free. Appreciation is expressed to: Steve Block and the College of Fine Arts; Dennis Hart and the Office of Global Engagement; Dr. Cinthya Saavedra and Mexican American Studies; Dr. Francisco Guajardo and the B3 Institute; the Student Union; David Carren and UTRGV Theater Department.
The musical is set in Nahuatl-speaking Mexico, circa 1519 CE., soon-to-be joined by friendly Spanish speakers (I’m kidding). It features Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma, his nephew, Cuauhtémoc, and leader of the “Conquista,” Hernán Cortés as well as the famous “mistress” of Cortés,Malinalli.
I feel a special connection to this whole story. I lived in “La Casa de la Malinche” in Cuernavaca, near the Palacio de Cortés, with its sensuous mural by Diego Rivera, while I was researching and teaching in Mexico. I felt her presence there, along the souls of the former inmates. (It became a women’s prison in later years; the chains were still in the walls.) You, too, can feel that presence, via the music and drama of this musical, Malinalli.
That monumental encounter between old and new world was one of historic proportions. Her epic story admits the theme of “traitor” (the pejorative term, “Malinchista,” is an insult of those who prefer things foreign); it transforms into one of a feminist heroine (revenging her people, conquered by the Aztecs, with the help of the Spanish). She is played by Mandy Carin. The Machiavellian Teuhtliltzin is portrayed by Javier Robles. Embattled Moctezuma is portrayed by Christopher Treviño; defiant Cuauhtémoc by Rubén Quintero; ambitious Cortés by Alex Torres.
Moreira searched for “stories that sing” through his own Cuban/Mexican American identity. He found it with Malinalli. He presents her as a complicated but “empowered woman,” letting the audience decide about the good/bad polarity. Robert found similar themes in the past, such as Vivaldi’s opera, “Moctezuma” (sic). But they usually leave out the near-mythical Mother of Mestizajeor demonize her. He colored Malinallisubtly, using enlightened, critical sources (from Sahagun, to Carmen Tafolla, to Gloria Anzaldua); she emerged as a “more nuanced personae.”
The result of this collaboration: a magical fusion of cultures, sounds, and intellectual stimuli. The plot elaborates on history. The tragic “Noche Triste” transpires and Moctezuma is murdered. Yet, Robert takes necessary poetic license to heighten the stakes, themes, and character conflicts. There is a love-triangle among Cortés, Malinalli and Tecuichpo, daughter of Moctezuma.
Do you want a real, “new world” version of Game of Thrones? Consider Moreira’s lyrics for Aztec Adviser, Teuhtliltzín, as he entices Cortés: “Year after year, you’ll set sail with gold in tow, take all the profits home, then come back for more!” You want a nascent “Me Too” moment? Savor the lyrics Cuauhtémoc sings to Malinalli’s rival for Cortés’s love, Tecuichpo: “it’s a cruel world, ripe for women, not for little girls.”
Want a prescient parody on Sarah Huckabee? Be aware of Malinalli, as she translates for (and later betrays) Cortés: “I will aid him, I will soothe him; in the darkness, I will hold him.” Want “Game of Throne”-level betrayal? Think of present politics, as the (Greek) Aztec chorus sings: “Promises, promises . . . sometimes are treacherous.”
Or, finally, want to hear the “goddess,” the angel/demon, Malinalli/Malinche’s curse, as she, herself, is betrayed, as her son, Martín, the first Mexican, is torn from her? Shudder in recognition of a daily/dominant national official, as she prophesizes: “Those who claim to be gods, are mere men, nothing more . . . they have a disease, that only gold can appease.” Que Viva! the wisdom of Malinalli!Que Viva! the drama awaiting us in the universe of our own University.