The Philharmonic Society of Orange County is taking the show on the road. After 42 years in the business of presenting visiting ensembles, the importer has become an exporter.
Two performances of Fiesta Navidad take place today in Costa Mesa, the organization's usual turf. But there are 18 bookings of Nati Cano's show already lined up for December 1996, with stops in Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico.
"We're now an official producing touring company!" bubbled Dean Corey this week from an oyster bar in Dallas; Corey is executive director of the Philharmonic Society. "We're always bringing in stuff from other places. It's kind of nice that we're sending something off now.
"And our eyes are open for anything else that comes up. [Whether the society produces other tours] depends if we get the right combination."
According to Corey, such ventures would need to be worth doing artistically; have developmental possibilities ("Can you do variations on it?"), and be of interest to a broader area of the country. As for Fiesta Navidad, he added, "This idea is unique."
Unique, indeed. The Philharmonic Society has copyrighted the name "Fiesta Navidad."
Two years ago, the society opened its season in the fall with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, an ensemble whose own history goes back 30 years, 25 of them in Los Angeles. In December 1994, Cano and his musicians presented Fiesta Navidad--a Christmas show based on Las Posadas traditions, which celebrate the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem--and it sold out.
The Philharmonic Society knew it had a winner, secured the name and licensed Cano to use it. Under the arrangement, Cano develops the program and is paid a standard artist's fee, while the Philharmonic handles the promotion and receives the ticket proceeds. Ideally, it's equally profitable for both parties.
This year, the show played in San Jose, Escondido and Riverside before coming to the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Already looking beyond New Mexico, Corey expressed confidence that the tour will eventually extend to the East Coast and perhaps beyond, as well as making annual appearances at the Performing Arts Center.
"We'll take it to Europe someday!" Corey enthused.
For local concerts, the Performing Arts Center is also listed as a presenter. According to Corey, the center puts its name on anything at the venue that's nonclassical, even if the arrangement is such that the Philharmonic Society sells the tickets and takes all risks. But Corey raised an interesting point: "This is classical mariachis," he said.
According to center spokesman Greg Patterson, the facility co-presents the Philharmonic Society's Viva la Musica series because dance is involved; in the bargain it gives up dates penciled in for center presentations and commits to providing assistance in marketing and promotion--though the philharmonic marketing staff is aware of no efforts other than its own.
A bigger issue before the society might be whether a mariachi Christmas show can offer enough variety to sustain interest in the long run.
Cano, an ethnomusicology lecturer at UCLA and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1990, has no doubts.
"How much can you change a baseball game?" Cano asked, noting that people keep attending even if the format stays the same. "What we're doing is a big, big treasure. It's like going out in the country, where you see so many trees and flowers, and you pick the flowers, you make a bouquet. Each bouquet can be different, the flowers can be different."
This year's bouquet includes Ballet Folklorico Ollin under the direction of Virginia Diediker; singers Lynni Treekrem--"a beautiful senorita from Norway," said Cano--and Jasmine Natalia, 4-year-old daughter of one of the Los Camperos musicians.
"I'm just excited, period," Cano said. "I don't even see it as a show. I see it as a chance to share our happiness. It's like going to a home for a fiesta. Only this time the audience is the family."
* Fiesta Navidad, featuring Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Ballet Folklorico Ollin and Norwegian singer Lynni Treekrem, takes place today at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. 3 and 8 p.m. $10 to $37. (714) 553-2422.