The beloved novel The House on Mango Street is getting a musical makeover with an operatic release that author Sandra Cisneros is working on with composer Derek Bermel.
Sandra Cisneros first published the book in 1984 and it has since sold more than six million copies and it’s been translated into 20 languages.
She previously worked with Bermel on Mango Suite, a 50-minute piece inspired by the book and featuring dancers, vocalists, and actors that premiered in 2017.
“Yes, it will be an opera, and I’m so thrilled. My mother would love that. She was a big fan of opera, and she would borrow records from the library and sing along with them because she had a beautiful voice. She couldn’t understand what she was singing, but she followed the words. She would say ‘Sandra, listen,’ and just open her mouth,” she told American Libraries Magazine.
“The composer Derek Bermel approached my agent. He wanted to do a suite of songs [based on The House on Mango Street], and he sent along a sample of what he does. It made me cry, it was so grand and so filled with emotion. I started blinking back tears. So he created the suite. I loved it. I thought, ‘I can get into this.’ And then he said, ‘Would you like to work with me and expand it into an opera—and would you like to do the libretto?’ I said, ‘Isn’t that a lovely word, libretto? I would like to add it to what I can do,’ Cisneros said.
The 64-year-old trailblazing Chicana author has lived in San Miguel de Allende, a colonial city in central Mexico since 2013 but spent many years in the U.S., specifically in Texas. She was born in Chicago in 1954 to Mexican immigrants and it was this experience and those of people around her that inspired the novel.
The book consists of 44 standalone episodes portraying 12-year-old Chicana protagonist Esperanza’s struggles with assimilating and simultaneously feeling marginalized growing up in Chicago.
Bermel recalled the process of working on Mango Suite and how despite his efforts to research poetry for source material, he couldn’t let go of Cisnero’s seminal work.
“I came back to The House on Mango Street because there was something so compelling about the story, and it started calling me,” Bermel said to The Chautauquan Daily. “It speaks to anybody who feels marginalized.”
The opera is still in the early stages but if Cisneros’ reaction to Mango Suite is any indication, it’ll be a passion project that only she can truly bring to life to honor the original source.
“I always imagined my life with a soundtrack,” Cisneros said. “Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?”