Set in exotic Yucatán on the eve of the Mexican Revolution, The Mapmaker's Opera is a dramatic adaptation (of a novel by Béa Gonzalez) that has more in common with a telenovela than with the art form mentioned in its title. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with being a telenovela - there wouldn’t be so many if they failed to connect with audiences - but unlike some of the world’s most renowned operas, this musical seems to lack focus, it wants to be too many things at once.
At its center is the story of Spanish bird-illustrator Diego Clemente (Joel Perez) who arrives in Mexico at the request of American naturalist Edward Nelson (Sean McDermott) who wishes to use his expertise in the creation of a catalogue of the region’s species. Diego has barely stepped off the boat when he sees - and falls in love with - Sofia Duarte (Madeleine Featherby) the daughter of an impoverished hacienda-owner whose family expects her to marry the son of a rich, but obviously evil, empresario.
The love story is trite enough, that when you add elements like an eco-friendly message (Diego must rescue two birds who are about to become extinct!), the impending revolution (which we only see hints off and seems to be used exclusively to aid in the melodramatic finale) and the wisecracks of a charming, but disturbingly stereotypical sidekick named Very Useful (Tony Chiroldes) the show feels like it’s trying to do too much with too little time. The direction is efficient (kudos for never showing us Diego’s work, for there is no way it could’ve lived up to the songs sung about it) and the set design is marvelous, but the show’s problems lie in its bloated book.
The fact that we often stray away from the lovers makes their “love” feel like nothing but a plot device and we end up craving to see more of other much more interesting characters. We want to learn for example how Nelson first arrived (it helps that McDermott’s Errol Flynn-esque qualities make him impossibly dashing), we're curious about the rich history of the area suggested in scenes where we hear about ancient legends, and we definitely want to see more of the locals as they plan their uprising. Dance interludes (choreographed by Stas Kmiec) with company members Andrés Acosta and especially Natalia Lepore Hagan (someone make a musical and give her the lead!) who play multiple parts, are utterly electrifying. They send chills down our spines that remind us that there are much more important things in life than corny romances.