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For nearly two centuries, San Pedro Creek played a key role in San Antonio’s growth and development and its waters were regarded by the native people who lived alongside it as a viable life source. Over time, its waters drew interest from Spanish emissaries who wanted to establish a mission nearby. It was the site of San Antonio’s first Spanish settlement, according to historians.
More than 500 people and local dignitaries bore witness to a dramatic representation of that history, including the climactic encounter between the Spanish and the native people, at the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project groundbreaking ceremony Thursday night on the Fox Tech High School football field. (Scroll down to see more photos from the event.)
It was the debut of the first act of John Phillip Santos‘ Las Fundaciones de Béjar, a mythic, multilingual opera portraying portraying the indigenous history of the creek and its legacy with music by Alamo City Opera, Opera San Antonio, the San Antonio Symphony, and the Children’s Chorus of San Antonio, and classical dancers from Ballet San Antonio. Native American dancers from American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions performed an elaborate “creation dance” before the production.
The story begins with the creek – which was a character in itself, the Lady of the Creek – emerging and giving life to “her children,” the indigenous people, the sounds of a Native American pow wow drum and indigenous shakers adding to the scene. The opera’s musical score, which can be found here, was composed by California-based composer Joseph Julian Gonzalez, who previously told the Rivard Report that the use of such instruments, coupled with modern orchestral techniques, added more authenticity and “color” to the piece.
Later, the indigenous people are told that “people of the cross” would soon come by a woman of another tribe. Others, like this particular tribe’s chief, oppose her and warn that the foreigners will bring destruction and “nothing will be the same.” As the story unfolds, a Spanish soldier and priest grapple with their conflicting missions – to conquer or bring religion and education to the native people along the creek. The story ends with the Lady of the Creek bringing the Spanish and the native people together, who seem reluctant to make contact.
“All is not lost,” she sang to the indigenous people. “Don’t be afraid, I will be with you forever more.”
The production’s full libretto can be found here.
San Pedro Creek was targeted for its revitalization efforts because it has such a rich history that heavily influenced life in San Antonio for years to come. Today, that history seems lost in the limestone flood control system that was built upon the creek in the 20th century. Once completed in May 2018, just in time for San Antonio’s Tricentennial, Phase 1 of the $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project will not only enhance that vital flood system but transform the area into a cultural linear park.
Officials anticipate continuations of Santos’ Fundaciones to punctuate the groundbreakings of the subsequent phases in the future.
Top image: Children performers run across the stage during Las Fundaciones de Béjar. Photo by Scott Ball.