Hispanic Heritage Month 2017: 8 Essential Spanish-Language Operas

By David Salazar

It is Hispanic Heritage month!

The Latin American community has, particularly in recent years, been a major boon to the opera world, providing it with great singers and composers, and a number of great operas. As the first part of this weekly series, we look at some of the most popular Hispanic operas ever written. We are not looking at Zarzuela in this edition, though we might (hint, hint) do so in a future installment.

Florencia de las Amazonas & Il Postino

The works of Daniel Catán have grown in popularity in recent years, with these two operas getting notable attention. Of the two, “Florencia” is, by far, the more popular one, obtaining performances in Seattle, Houston, Los Angeles, and a number of other cities around the world. It was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major US companies.

Set in Brazil, it follows the story of a famed soprano returning to her homeland to find her former lover.

The other opera by Catán to get attention is “Il Postino,” which was written for Plácido Domingo and his relationship with his personal postman. The opera has also appeared around the world, including Vienna and Paris, since its world premiere in 2010.

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna

Widely known as the “first mariachi opera,” “Cruzar” is probably the most recent opera on this list and has made its way across the states and even to Paris where it has been hailed for its invention and ability to meld two rather distinct musical styles into a cohesive work of art.

Maria de Buenos Aires

Piazzolla’s work is often called an operetta, but it is performed at a number of major opera companies around the world, its own unique style garnering the work much famed. Catalina Cuervo, a Colombian soprano, has performed the work more than any other singer in history, taking it all around the US.

The opera wasn’t always particularly proper, failing to get a US premiere until 1991, despite making its world premiere over 20 years earlier.


Arrieta’s opera isn’t all that popular these days outside of Spain, though its importance is crucial. It started life as a zarzuela in two acts before the composer expanded into a three-act opera, at the suggestion of tenor Enrico Tamberlick. Set in a fishing town, it follows the love of Marina for Jorge and the challenges they face. The opera has been championed in the past by such singers as Jaume Aragall, Alfredo Kraus, Juan Pons, and María Bayo, all of whom recorded the opera.


Ginastera’s two-act opera is unique compared to the other works on this list. Whereas the others play on a lot of musical folklore of Spain and Latin America, this one is more focused on the use of twelve-tone technique and quarter tones. The opera is essentially a series of flashbacks of the Duke of Bomarzo as he prepares to die at the hands of an astrologer. It premiered in Washington in 1967 and has made the rounds with such companies as New York City Operas, and then made its way to Argentina in 1972.


Granados’ one-act opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the first work to ever premiere in Spanish at the famed theater. While its popularity has waned in recent years, it remains an essential opera that was even adapted into a film.

La Vida Breve

Manuel de Falla’s famous opera that started off with a  more traditional structure before turning into a fluidly interconnected work, at the behest of Claude Debussy. While the opera has never been all that popular, it was championed extensively by soprano Victoria de los Ángeles, who recorded it twice.

Did we miss any of your favorite Hispanic operas? Let us know in the comments below!


Special Features