Efraín Solís knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As a Mexican American growing up in Orange County, California, he says, “I felt stuck between two worlds. I couldn’t hide that I looked Hispanic. I was not like the white kids, but I didn’t speak with an accent. And I knew about my Mexican culture but had not lived it like the kids who came from there.” His school attended the student dress rehearsals at nearby Opera Pacific and their docents came out to explain the operas beforehand. For Efraín, whose parents are both musical and who had performed in plays and in church choir, opera was a natural fit. He was a finalist in HGO’s Eleanor McCollum Concert of Arias in 2013, and he first heard about Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, which HGO premiered in 2010 and revived on its main stage in 2013, soon afterwards. “I was so excited about this new mariachi opera,” he recalls. But, as a member of San Francisco Opera’s young artists program at the time, he couldn’t work the auditions into his schedule.
Efraín is excited to return to Houston to play Mark in HGO’s newest presentation of Cruzar. The role, which he debuted in the recent New York performances of Cruzar, is a homecoming in more ways than one. “When I was growing up, mariachi was part of my culture,” he explains. “We had mariachi at family gatherings, weddings, quinceañera.” In Cruzar, Mark’s father, Laurentino, is dealing with some memory issues, while Efraín’s real-life grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease. “I love that Mark is first-generation American and that he is truly bilingual,” he adds. “My grandparents lived with us, and out of respect, you never spoke a language one of your elders did not understand. So while we spoke English at school, it was Spanish at home and at church.”
One thing Efraín did not share with his character—at first— was the ability to play guitar. “When they asked if I could play, I said, ‘okay, send me the music.’ Then I sent it to my dad, who plays guitar, and asked, ‘Can I get this learned in a month?’” Clearly, his musical genes have paid off.
(You can see and hear Efraín and his cast mates with Grammy Award–winning Mariachi Los Camperos in Cruzar la Cara de la Luna on May 17, 19, and 20 at HGO Resilience Theater.)