Andina: An opera by Chicago's first Hispanic composer

Andina: An opera by Chicago's first Hispanic composer
Courtesy Arlen Parsa

Two years ago in a box in his aunt's basement, Arlen Parsa found a musical score.

Crumpled and faded, it was an opera written by his late great grandfather in the early 1930s.

Eustasio Rosales came to the U.S. from Colombia as a young man. Parsa had heard stories that his great grandfather was a musician.

But he didn't know he had written an opera. Now the score found in a basement will have its world premiere in Chicago.

"For me this is a piece of my heritage," Parsa said.

Called, "Andina," the opera tells the story of a girl from the mountains who falls in love with two men, one rich and one poor. It will be performed at the Anthenaeum theater Friday night.

But it took a lot of work to get there. Parsa raised money through an online Kickstarter campaign. He had to find someone to transcribe the written score to a computer score. He found a composer, musicians and a theater.

And in the process he uncovered more about his great-grandfather's history.

He played tangos at nightclubs and hotels in Chicago with his own orchestra.

He also is believed to be the first Hispanic composer in Chicago. Parsa found documentation that one of his great-grandfather's songs was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the early 1930s.

He died in 1934.

A search on YouTube found that musicians from around the world had recorded one of his other songs, a bolero. His family didn't know his music had lived on.

"This was an astonishing moment. We thought that when Eustasio died his music died with him," said Parsa, 28, who studied documentary film at Columbia College Chicago.

In that field he learned how to put together a crew and make a creative work. This served him well in bringing the opera to life.

"I knew nothing about opera," Parsa said. "Now I know a little bit more."

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