From The Composer


I have been often asked what drew me to the figure of Empress Carlota for an opera. It’s a difficult question to answer. A powerful woman living at the wrong time, a woman who wanted to be of use but who never understood her new country, a woman who was unwilling to remain a mere appendage of the monarchy, all of these had a certain influence. But it may be that I identified with Carlota on another level. At the age of nine, I and my family moved from the United States to Mexico and, like Carlota, I also found it difficult to adapt to a completely different way of life. There is also my interest in history; I would give anything to go back in time and witness the arrival of Maximilian and Carlota in Veracruz, their entrance to Mexico City, the day Carlota left Chapultepec Castle bound for France in her attempt to save the Mexican Empire. In doing research for this opera, I went many times to Chapultepec Castle, now the National Museum of History, and found myself touching the imperial carriage, still on display, touching doors and staircase handrails, wondering if she too had once touched them, standing in places she might have stood, all in an attempt to recapture the past. Of course, returning to the past is impossible, so the next best thing is to recreate it with an opera.

The Work

In an article I wrote for the Mexican magazine, Arquetipos, I talked about how naïve I had been in the beginning to think that I could write the libretto following each of the events of the story without changing any historical facts. Now I know why movies that deal with historical events often alter things; exactly reproducing history does not always lend itself to drama. However that might be, I was able to follow history pretty much as it happened, with here and there slight modifications. For the workshop/performance, I was very fortunate to collaborate with the director, Daniel Helfgot, and with musical director, Barbara Day Turner.


Although the opera traces the story of Maximilian and Carlota from beginning to end, a strong focus is placed on Carlota’s refusal to address the warning signs that she encountered along the way and that eventually led to her madness and her husband’s execution by the Mexican army. Act I begins in the year 1927, the year Carlota died, and then goes back to 1864 with their trip to Mexico ending with their triumphal entrance into Mexico City. Act II re-enacts the problems of ruling a country that really did not want foreign monarchs. Act III dramatizes Carlota’s descent into insanity, Maximilian’s execution, and a return to the year 1927 with her death at Bouchout Castle, Belgium.