Xochitl and the Flowers
Created in partnership with Alvarado Elementary School’s 3rd grade Spanish immersion program, Xochitl and the Flowers (pronounced ‘so-tcheel’) is part of Opera Parallèle’s acclaimed annual Hands-on-Opera program, which features children center-stage as full project participants and performers. Xochitl and the Flowers is composer Christopher Pratorius’ third commissioned work for Opera Parallèle. It is based on the book of the same name by Jorge Argueta with a new libretto by Roma Olvera. Derived from real-life events in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, this quintessentially American immigration story tells the poignant tale of a family’s determination to put down roots in a new country, while still preserving the heritage of their homeland.

Libretto by Roma Olvera and Brian Staufenbiel
Based on the book by Jorge Argueta


SCENE 1: A Bustling City Block

CHORUS: Buenos Dias! Hola niña! What a beautiful day in the city! This is our neighborhood. Este es neustro barrio. Que linda esta La Mission!

XOCHITL: Hola! Me llamo Xochitl. We are new here, my family and me! We come from El Salvador, Centroamerica, in the continent of America. Somos de la gente Nahuatl. My name means flower.

CHORUS: Xochitl, what a beautiful name! Xochitl, bienvenida! Este es nuestro barrio!

(Lights change to focus on corner of stage where Abuelo is, clearly in a different place from the bustling city)

ABUELO: Ay, querida Xochitl. We miss you very much, niña. We farm the flowers on the land here in El Salvador  and think of you, Mija. Long before the Spanish came, Nahuatl people lived here. We named you in their honor.

Xochitl, our flower. How we miss you Xochitl. Xochitl, neustra flor. Te extraño Xochitl. Xochitl, mi florecita.

PAPI: Hola mi hija, me voy al trabajo, te amo.

XOCHITL: Goodbye Papi. Good luck finding work today!  Be careful with your back. (To audience) My papi has a bad back.

MAMI: Hola mi hija, me voy al trabajo, te amo.

XOCHITL: Goodbye Mami! Have a good day. What houses will you clean today? (to audience) Mami cleans many houses in a day. This is our neighborhood now, this is our home.

XOCHITL, MAMI, PAPI: This is our neighborhood now. Este es nuestro barrio. So far from El Salvador. So much is strange and new. So far from our land, but this is now our home! Estamos juntos, like flowers in a precious bouquet. Un ramo precioso. A precious bouquet.

(From the opposite place of Abuelo, Don Roberto emerges from the house door and scowls at the bustling activity)

DON ROBERTO: Look at this neighborhood! Muchos cambios. Siempre cambia changes everyday. It used to have such quiet streets, no crowds. El barrio is changing. But not here! Never here!  (He reluctantly places a For Rent sign outside the door)

CHORUS: Este es nuestro barrio. Somos la gente de la ciudad. This is the our neighborhood. We are the people of the city!

XOCHITL: Sometimes I miss Abuelo. Sometimes I miss El Salvador. Here the days pass slowly, like the snails with their homes on their backs. Como los caracoles.

PAPI: Each day I work so hard. Each day I work for my family. Painting houses, fixing them. Building new homes for others. The days pass slowly. Like the snails, with their homes on their backs. Como los caracoles.

MAMI: Each day I work in the city. Each day I work so hard. Here the days pass slowly. Like the snails with their homes on their backs. Como los caracoles. Each day I work for my family. Time passes slowly. But I dream of the life we are building.

SCENE 2: (Inside the tiny city apartment)

XOCHITL: (spoken practicing her English to herself) Hello, my name is Xochitl. How are you. Would you like to buy a flower? (singing) Ay! Parezco loca but I get better when I practice. Que es la hora? Mami will be home soon!

MAMI: Nina! Que gran sorpresa! You have tied all the flowers, all of them? What a wonderful daughter you are! Ay! Mira la rosa, roses are my favorite. They remind me of your Papi. Flores, como tu papi dan alegria a todos. Roses are my favorite! Xochitl is my favorite! Papi is my favorite! Ven, mija. Let’s see who wants to buy our flowers.

XOCHITL AND MAMI: Flowers! Flores! Flowers for sale! We have roses, lilies, and daisies to sell! Mi Reina! Rosas y lirios y margaritas!

XOCHITL: I love to see their faces, Mami! Always happy to have a rose! This bucket is so heavy!

MAMI: Remember the weddings back home. When Fidel married Rosa, we made his house into a garden inside!

XOCHITL AND MAMI: Flowers! Flores! Flowers for sale!  Flowers seem to make faces bloom! Flowers! Flores! Flowers for sale!  We have roses, lilies, and daisies to sell! Flowers seem to make faces bloom!  

(As Xochitl and Mami near the “for rent” sign, Don Roberto shakes his head and goes inside. He is not interested in buying flowers or in meeting strangers)

MAMI: Remember Lala Osorio? And the day she turned fifteen?

XOCHITL AND MAMI: Flores! Flowers for sale! Flowers seem to make faces bloom! Flowers seem to make faces bloom!  We have roses, lilies, and daisies to sell!

XOCHITL: Oh Mami! How could I forget! We made two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen ramilletes. It took us hours!

XOCHITL AND MAMI: But fifteen ramilletes made fifteen happy girls! Flowers! Flores! Flowers for sale! Flowers seem to make faces bloom! Hay rosas y lirios y margaritas. Flowers make faces bloom!

CHORUS: Roses, Lilies, Daisies to sell. We are all a part of a precious bouquet! Rosas, lirios, margaritas. Todos somos parte de un ramo de flores lindo. Flores nacen con una sonrisa.

SCENE 3: (Back inside the tiny apartment)

XOCHITL: I’m glad to be home Mami! Me duelen los pies!

MAMI: Quitate los zapatos, mija. We’ll soak our feet for a bit. What a busy night in the city!

PAPI: Mi princesas, estan en casa? Mira! Flores para mis flores!

XOCHITL AND MAMI: Papi! So pretty! Sit down, sit down! You must be tired, so tired….

MAMI: Hola mi amor, I’m so happy you are home! Such beautiful flowers? You must have a surprise.

(Xochitl has fallen asleep on the couch)

PAPI: Mira la niña, amor. She’s so pretty when she sleeps.

MAMI AND PAPI: Duermete, niñita; no llores chiquita. Vendrán angelitos, chiquitita. Sombritas de noche, chiquita. Rayitos de luna, rayitos de plata. Alumbran mi niña,Chiquita. Que está en la cuna niñita. Duermete…

CHORUS: Flowers, flores, flowers for sale.

MAMI: So Papi? What news are you hiding?

PAPI: Mañana mi amor, we will see a new place, I saw a sign on my way home. It needs work but there’s a garden! We’ll work hard my love, I know how long you’ve waited. But tomorrow gives me hope!

MAMI: Yo creo en ti, mi amor. En la vida we are building. En la tierra we are planting. We are building, we are planting!

MAMI AND PAPI: Construyendo, y sembrando. Construyendo a new life! El amor de la familia is strong. In tomorrow and the next day, we have hope.

SCENE 4: (At the door of an apartment for rent)

DON ROBERTO: For forty years, I have lived in this neighborhood. Forty years. I long for it to be the way it was. I see too many people. Too many cars. Too many lives that are not like mine. Muchos jovenes living strange lives. Not like when it was great. When I arrived forty years ago, the neighbors stuck together. We made this our home, but now there are too many people. Too many cars, too many lives that are not like mine. I am a quiet man. I want a quiet life. I long for it to be the way it was.

(The Flores family emerges from the house, looking hopeful that they may get to move to a perfect home)

PAPI: Mr. Roberto, we thank you for taking the time for us. My family and I really like this place. Especialmente el jardín?

DON ROBERTO: What do you mean “garden?” The space outside hasn’t been used in years. There is no garden there. ¡Aquí no hay jardín!

PAPI: Mr. Roberto, right now it is piles of dirt and metal. But my family and I would like to grow flowers back there.

DON ROBERTO: Flowers? Impossible. Nothing will grow in this changed city.  Not after all these years. Only the apartment is for rent. You may not use the yard!

XOCHITL: Que dice, Mami? What does he say?

MAMI: Querida niñita. He is saying we can’t use the yard. That nothing can grow back there.

XOCHITL: Oh no! That can’t be true!

(XOCHITL approaches DON ROBERTO shyly. She’s not used to speaking English to strangers.)

Hello. My name is Xochitl. How are you, Señor? I looked at the garden. And I know that flowers can grow there. I looked outside, and I knew right away!

DON ROBERTO: How little girl? How could you know?

XOCHITL: My Abuelo is a farmer. He grows flowers in El Salvador. When he looks at his plants, he always first looks at the sky. Para ver el sol, the sun. My Abuelo looks to see the sunlight. El mira al cielo, para ver si hay pajaros. And then he looks down and he feels the….feels the… Como se dice Mami? La tierra?

DON ROBERTO: The earth, child. He feels the earth.

XOCHITL: Oh thank you, Señor, the earth! Caracoles, he looks down para ver los caracoles. Si hay caracoles viajando, with their little homes on their backs. If there are caracoles traveling by, there must be good plants for them to eat!

DON ROBERTO: Why birds, my child? Why should he look for birds?

XOCHITL: Because birds look for pretty places to spend their days. And do you know, Señor? When I looked outside, I saw both? A pretty green bird, with red feathers in its wing. And caracoles!

DON ROBERTO: Green birds? With red feathers in its wings?

XOCHITL: And caracoles! With their homes on their backs!

DON ROBERTO: (He looks off into the distance) I used to have a bird with red feathers in its wings (His attention returns to the family, he stiffens with his usual lack of optimism) Come back tomorrow. Give me time to think. I don’t like change. I want things to remain the same.

SCENE 5: (the Flores home, the neighborhood block, the door of the rental)

CHORUS: This is our neighborhood. Este es nuestro barrio. We are the people of the neighborhood.  This is our barrio, Que Linda esta La Misíon!

MAMI AND PAPI: A home. A home of our own. With a space for a garden. I hope he decides we can stay. Four months ago, we arrived en este barrio to build our new life. We left El Salvador with nothing but the packs on our backs. Arriving here, putting down roots like a tree. A family tree. Grounded in love.

DON ROBERTO: My Home. Where I came from. It’s been forty years since I left my home. My Abuela and her birds, her little green birds with red feathers on their wings. When she died, everything changed. I had nothing. So I left. I came here with nothing. I built my new life. It’s been forty years since I thought of those birds. Green birds with red wings. That little girl. There is something about her. That little girl softens my heart.

XOCHITL: (Xochitl clutches a little red bag of dirt to her chest) This little bag…Doesn’t look like much. It has traveled a long way like me. Today I rise with the sun. I hold my little bag, and I say a little prayer. A new home! And a garden. A place where I can share la tierra. From Abuelo.

XOCHITL, MAMI & PAPI: Today I have hope. Yo tengo esperanzados.  For a new home, for the life I am building. La nueva vida. I hope that things that I learn will grow. Lo que apredo, que cresca. Los que quiero, que crescan como yo. People I love will grow, like me. I will grow. I’m laying down roots.

DON ROBERTO (with Flores family): I remember the hope that I had. For a new home I would build. I remember the things that I learned. I remember the people I loved. I changed. For a moment, I forgot my roots.

CHORUS: Changes y cambios.

PAPI: Buenos dias Don Roberto! We have come to see if you have made up you mind. We want so much to make this place our home. What did you decide?

DON ROBERTO: Welcome Flores family! Welcome little Xochitl! I was so scared of change. But you have softened my heart and opened my eyes. Welcome Flores family. Welcome to your new home!

CHORUS & TUTTI: This is our neighborhood. We are the people of the city. What a beautiful day en el barrio! Take out the tires, take out the iron, take out the cardboard, take out the glass! Bring in the plants and build a home. Plant seeds! Put down roots!

TUTTI: Este es el Barrio. Somos la gente de la ciudad. Este es nuestro barrio. We are the people of the city. Sembramos semillas. Trabajamos por sueños. Y crecemos. Juntos, crecemos. Todos juntos, somos la gente de la ciudad!


Thursday, November 17, 6pm
Saturday, November 19, 11am and 1pm

Venue: Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission Street, San Francisco

Seating is first come first served, so arrive early!
Running time for the performance is 45 minutes

Like Us on FacebookCouldn’t make it? Watch it live on our facebook page! You don’t need a facebook account, just go to the OP facebook page.

Recessional at Alvarado Elementary's Dia de los Muertos presentation


Sabrina Romero-Wilson
The Arlington Today Magazine described Sabrina as “bringing music to our ears and our souls.” She has performed with Opera Parallèle, San Francisco Operas Education Outreach, Old First Concerts, San Diego Opera, BASOTI, Halifax Summer Opera Festival and CoOPERAtive. Highlighted roles include: Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Giannetta (L’elisir d’amore), Sister Catherine (Dead Man Walking), Barbarina and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Claudia Nardi (Nine), and Little Red (Into the Woods). Sabrina holds her Masters from SFCM and studies with Jane Randolph.


Yemonja StanleyYEMONJA STANLEY, SOPRANO (Mami): graduated with honors from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2013 where she performed the roles of Sandman in Engelbert Humperdincks Hansel and Gretel, the title role of Handel’s Agrippina and the role of Ginevra in Handels Ariodante. She has gone on to sing the roles of Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème with Opera on the Avalon and Miss Jessel in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw with Opera Theater Unlimited. Most recently, she covered the role of Bess in Porgy and Bess with the Utah Festival Opera. Yemonja is thrilled to perform in her third production with Opera Parallèle. In the company’s previous season, she sang the title role of Amazing Grace and appeared in the ensemble of Terence Blanchard’s Champion.


Andres RamirezANDRES RAMIREZ, TENOR (Papi): Mexican-American tenor, Andres Ramirez, comes to Hands-on-Opera after a number of appearances with Opera Parallèle, most recently as Luis Rodrigo Griffith in Champion. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mr. Ramirez has experience in opera, musical theater, and on the concert stage. He recently joined the Pacific Chorale and co-founded Contempo Productions. Performance highlights include: A Little Night Music (Mr. Erlanson; American Conservatory Theatre), Anya17 (Uri/Gabriel; Opera Parallèle), and the titular role in Candide (Douglas Morrisson Theatre).


Bradley KynardBRADLEY KYNARD, BARITONE (Abuelo/Don Roberto): returns to Opera Parallèle to create the role of Don Roberto (Xochitl and the Flowers). This September Mr. Kynard will make his OAC debut as Ramiro (L’heure Espagnole). Recently, he premiered the role of Lazarus (Voyage Mary Magdalene) and made his San Francisco Opera debut as Daggoo (Moby Dick). Previous roles include Peter (Hansel and Gretel), Alfio (Cavalleria Rusticana), Remendado (Carmen), and Cecil (Roberto Devereux). He has performed with the SFO chorus for the past nine seasons.


ROMA OLVERA (EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS DIRECTOR) oversees the three-tiered outreach program for Opera Parallèle. In addition to creating the fully staged Hands-on-Opera production for elementary-age students, she develops interactive workshops for high schools and universities in the Bay Area. The workshops are unique to the main-stage performances OP produces each year. Roma is a lyric soprano with extensive experience teaching in the classroom. She specializes in integrating opera and the arts into general education. Roma also wrote the libretto for Pratorius’ Amazing Grace.

LUÇIK APRAHAMIAN (CONDUCTOR) is on the faculty of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as Assistant Conductor and Level III Director, and as Music Director at First Lutheran Church of Palo Alto. She is also thrilled to begin her tenure as Music Director of the vocal group, Resound Ensemble. An avid exponent of new music, Aprahämian has commissioned and premiered works for a variety of performing forces. Aprahämian’s has a great passion for opera, and she can be seen on the podium as well as backstage working with sets, props, lighting, and directing. This summer she was the chorus-master of the San Francisco Girls Chorus for the San Francisco Opera production of Carmen. She received her bachelor’s degree in fortepiano performance practice and master’s degree in conducting from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and her doctorate in choral and orchestral conducting from the University of Arizona. She has studied conducting with Nicole Paiement, Bruce Chamberlain, Elizabeth Schauer, Thomas Cockrell, and Charles Bontrager, and voice and theatre production with Brian Staufenbiel.

BRENDAN HARTNETT (STAGE DIRECTOR) is a director of opera and lyric theater. Previously, he has worked with many Bay Area ensembles including, Opera Parallèle, West Edge Opera, Festival Opera, and Pocket Opera. He holds an MFA in Directing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television. While at UCLA he directed works by Anton Chekhov, Eugene Ionesco, Kurt Weill, and Peter Brook, and taught courses in vocal technique, acting, and directing for theater. Brendan holds a Bachelor’s of Music degree in vocal performance from UC Santa Cruz.

RACHAEL HEIMAN (PRODUCTION DESIGNER/ COSTUMER) is a new addition to the Opera Parallèle team, working as a production designer and fabricator. She has been working in Bay Area as an actor as well as a costume, prop, and set builder for around 6 years. Rachael has also worked for The SF Playhouse, West Bay Opera, Marin Shakespeare, Silicon Valley Shakespeare, San Jose Stage, and the San Francisco Speakeasy. She is currently in her second year at the California College of the Arts mixing Industrial Design, Sculpture, and Fashion Design into one individualized major.

SASKIA LEE (STAGE MANAGER) received her M.A. from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied Operatic Stage Management. As a freelance stage manager, she has worked with throughout the Bay Area with companies such as A.C.T., Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Festival Opera, SFCM, Hidden Valley Opera, Liss Fain Dance, and Oaktown Productions. Ms. Lee also works with OP as the Media Production Coordinator, as well as ASM. Ms. Lee holds a B.A. in Voice from UC Santa Cruz.


Christopher PratoriusChristopher Pratorius Gómez is a composer and pianist based in Santa Cruz, California. He has written pieces for solo voice, choir, chamber ensembles, orchestra, and electronic media that have been performed in San Francisco, Istanbul, New York, Guatemala, and other spots around the world.

A recent highlight is Claroscuro en Flor, a concerto for harp commissioned by the American Harp Society and San José Chamber Orchestra which saw its premiere in 2013. Other projects include the chamber concerto Untogether, not Apart, commissioned and premiered by New Music Works, a fresh setting of Pablo Neruda’s Poema XX, commissioned by Nicole Paiement for the BluePrint project; Contraponientes, a choral song-cycle based on poetry by Federico García Lorca commissioned by Ariose Singers; and Being of One’s Hour, commissioned by Robert Kelley for Santa Cruz Ballet Theater.

As composer-in-residence for Opera Parallèle, he has written three children’s operas of children’s operas for their Hands-on-Opera educational program. The first opera, My Head is Full of Colors, premiered in 2014, and the second, Amazing Grace, premiered in 2015.

He teaches theory, history, composition, and piano at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at Cal State Monterey Bay.


Established in 1926, Alvarado Elementary in Noe Valley is a school community rich in arts, culture, academics, and diversity. Third grade teachers, Cecilia Macdonagh and Luis Sierra have been a bilingual team for nearly 20 years. The veteran teachers have a deep understanding of the vital role arts play in the lives of students. Together they have produced numerous Dia de Los Muertos annual productions and other arts events.


Opera Parallèle’s innovative program gives students from various age groups the opportunity to participate in producing and performing an opera. The students will be immersed in the complete operatic experience by:

  • Learning and preparing the music, accompanied by orchestral instruments.
  • Developing a character with singing and movement.
  • Telling a story in two languages.
  • Designing costumes and make-up.
  • Working with a conductor, stage director, and professional singers.
  • Performing on stage in front of a live audience.

Read more about our past Hands-on-Opera performances.


San Francisco Classical Voice – “Children Take Center Stage in Xochitl and the Flowers” – Mark MacNamara

Paiement’s goal for young children is to genuinely engage with opera, “to make it part of their vocabulary. We want this to be seen not as something unusual or outside the curriculum. We believe that having children engage in this way may help them fall in love with the art form and also to help develop future audiences.”

“Of course we developed this a year ago, long before the election. But I believe art should not be a form of propaganda. It’s there to make people think and to make them reflect. It should be like a mirror. You look at yourself in the mirror and you can find yourselves beautiful or not as beautiful. It should be a means of reflection in a world where I don’t think we take enough time to do that. Which is why the arts are so important. And that’s why we chose this story not as part of some political agenda.” – Nicole Paiement

Read the full SFCV article interview with Artistic Director Nicole Paiement.

KDFC – Jeffrey Freymann’s State of the Arts – with Educational Programs Director, Roma Olvera

The chorus is made up of kids from Alvarado Elementary school. “Those 44 third graders that are on stage have been speaking Spanish since kindergarten,” Roma Olvera says. “And our conductor is bilingual as well, so they switch back and forth between Spanish and English the whole time. We look for a diverse population, because we want our opera company to look like our city, and our world looks. And Alvorado has that demographic. It’s also an immersion program, one of the oldest immersion programs in the city.” In the story, the young daughter Xochitl, (the Nahuat word for ‘flower’) sells flowers in the Mission as her father tries to find a place for them to live. The landlord of a building they want to move into doesn’t want them to move in, changing the neighborhood, until his heart is changed by Xochitl. “She looks at the backyard, and she says ‘Don Roberto, there are three things that a garden needs. It needs sunshine, and it needs birds, because birds come for a happy place to live, and it needs snails, because snails travel with their homes on their backs and look for new places to live. And your garden has all three, I know it’s going to work.'”

Scroll down and listen to the clip HERE

Mercury News – “Xochitl and the Flowers at Opera Parallèle draws third graders into the performance” – Georgia Rowe

Hands-on-Opera has been successful in developing operas that can be presented in a variety of educational settings. “They’re meant to be short, flexible, engaging pieces,” says composer Pratorius.
The kids get a firm foundation in opera – and over three productions, Pratorius has, too.
“It’s been amazing,” he says. “Parallèle has a complete commitment to new works. The collaborative process happens from the very beginning. There’s a constant dialogue between the composer and the production team. This team understands so much about how a piece is going to look and feel and move in real time.

Read the full Mercury News article and interview with composer Christopher Pratorius.