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'Bless Me, Ultima,' Rudolfo Anaya's Controversial Novel, to Become Opera

By Philip Trapp on Apr 27, 2016 03:17 PM EDT

Rudolfo Anaya's celebrated yet controversial 1972 novel, Bless Me, Ultima, will find new life as an opera. One of the most challenged books in the U.S. and the best-selling Chicano novel of all time, it was adapted as a feature film in 2013 by director Carl Franklin.

Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center is commissioning the work with the help of Opera Southwest. Tentatively scheduled to open in 2018, the opera will be written by Mexican-American composer Hector Armienta.

The book, a coming-of-age novel set in 1940s New Mexico, is often cited as the catalyst of the Chicano literary movement. Although sometimes banned in schools for its rough language, it is often required reading for many Southwestern students.

An Associated Press report highlighted New Mexico educators who assign the reading of Bless Me, Ultima to their pupils. University of New Mexico's Irene Vasquez, chair of the institution's Chicana and Chicano Studies Department, expressed her anticipation of the opera:

"This will give our students an incredible opportunity to bring the sounds of a narrative to life," Vasquez said. "Being able to attend an opera like this will be a great experience."

The aforementioned film version was financed by Tenaja Productions, an outfit headed by Walmart heiress Christy Walton. As a fan of the book, she reportedly established the company solely to fund the publication's screen adaptation.

The movie's forenamed director, Carl Franklin, is best known for his 1995 neo-noir picture, Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle. The auteur has also worked with stars like Eva Mendes and Billy Bob Thornton. Bless Me, Ultima, Franklin's latest production, was filmed in New Mexico in 2010.

Famed movie critic Roger Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars at the time of its release. In his review, Ebert emphasized the tome's emblematic prestige:

"Although it was published only in 1972, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima has achieved the iconic stature as such novels as The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. Now comes a movie to do it justice. Carl Franklin's film is true to the tone and spirit of the book."

We want to hear from you. Let us know if you've read Bless Me, Ultima in the comments section below.

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TagsBless Me Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya, Carl Franklin, Roger Ebert, Eva Mendes

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