'Tienda' tells a Minnesota immigration story that still resonates with America

Bergen Baker and Matthew Valverde perform in 'Tienda.'Jayme Halbritter

Excerpts from 'Tienda'


February 20, 2020

According to composer Reinaldo Moya, "Music is the most powerful tool I have to tell my own story."

In his opera Tienda, he finds connections between the main character, Luis, and his own life. At the same time, he brings to light a Minnesota immigration story that might be unfamiliar to many but still resonates with present-day America.

Man standing against a wall
Composer Reinaldo Maya.

Tienda, with a libretto by Caitlin Vincent, tells the story of Luis Garzón, a Mexican musician who immigrated to Minnesota in 1886 and opened a small shop, or "tienda," in St. Paul in the 1920s. The shop becomes a gathering place for the newest arrivals from Mexico, many of whom fled the Mexican Revolution and became farm workers in the United States. The opera explores the immigrant experience and reveals a heartbreaking chapter in the history of St. Paul.

"Tienda shows that we, as a country, have had a long history of reckoning with our heritage as an immigrant country," Moya says.

The opera was composed and given its world premiere as part of Moya's two-year residency with the Schubert Club. It is being performed again Friday and Saturday at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, as part of the school's sesquicentennial celebration. On this occasion, the semi-staged performance also will feature the Augsburg Choir and Orchestra.

Stage director Doug Scholz-Carlson outlined the importance of the opera in the context of the history of Minnesota:

The piece is a potent reminder for me that, unlike the people who lived on and held this land as sacred for generations before my ancestors arrived, most of us are part of groups that at one time were newcomers to this place and sought to make a home here both by bringing traditions from a former home and by incorporating the customs of this new place.

I hope the audience resonates with how generous and welcoming Luis was to his community, and I hope they take with them a desire to do the same in their own lives and in the Minnesota of today.

Listen to Moya talk about his opera Tienda, with musical excerpts from the world premiere at TPT Studio A, featuring singers Matthew Valverde (Young Luis) and Bergen Baker (Clara).

What: Tienda, a chamber opera
Where: Foss Center, Hoversten Chapel, Augsburg University, Minneapolis
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22
Tickets: Balcony seating, free; theater seating, $20 (including samples of Mexican food and beverages)