Viva Concha Top
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Historical Notes
by Candace Forest

      Back in February of 1996 I was strolling down 24th Street in Noe Valley looking for just the right birthday gift for my husband who happens to be a lover of California history.  Passing by the Cover to Cover bookstore I caught a glimpse of a book in the window entitled Love Stories of Old California (Cora Older/Applewood Books) and went inside to have a look. The only copy they had was the one in the window which they happily brought out and sold to me.
      The birthday celebration took place in Carmel and when asked by the birthday boy to "read one out loud," I chose a chapter entitled Concepción Arguello-California’s First Native Born Nun. (I think this title jumped out because as a kid back in Ohio I briefly entertained a fantasy of becoming a nun but that’s another story!) At any rate, when I finished reading, both of us were weeping and I heard myself say out loud, "I’m going to have to write an opera!" This was a startling outburst since I knew very little about opera and certainly had no clue how to write one.

      Concepción's father had been the first Commandant at the Presidio and their home, now the Officer’s Club, was the oldest building in San Francisco. They showed me a report on the subject that had been written by a woman named Eve Iversen while she was serving in the Army at the Presidio. Her address was local so when I got home I called information, obtained her phone number and gave her a call.

      She was very cordial and we made arrangements to meet and talk about "all things Concha." Soon after, I spent a lively afternoon with Eve and she pointed me in the direction of  the known history and basically filled in as many details as she could relevant to the events.  She was herself totally absorbed in the story and recognized me as a kindred spirit. Eve has since been recognized as the leading expert on this story. She has written a book, The Romance of Nikolai Rezanov and Concepción Arguello (The Limestone Press) and appeared recently in the Discovery Channel’s Conquest of North America series that featured the story of Rezanov’s visit to San Francisco and his engagement to Concha.

      I spent about 6 months reading everything I could get my hands on and contemplating the events until one morning I awoke to find myself at the piano writing what would become the first piece of  Viva Concha! Rose of the Presidio© which by the way, is not an opera! Actually, according to my Spanish friends, it is an "American Zarzuela." Our show’s director, Victoria Holder who knows a whole lot about opera says "it’s an operetta with a really good book!"
      Whatever, here we are, nearly a decade later anticipating the world premiere showcase of Viva Concha! Rose of the Presidio on Cinco de May weekend, May 5, 6 & 7, 2006. The opening at The Victoria Theatre, a vintage opera house in the Mission, will celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the meeting of Concha and Nikolai.  

      Needless to say, the events of the past decade could and I hope will fill the pages of a "behind the scenes" book I plan to write. There have been many small and large miracles associated with this project, none the Vatican would recognize but enough for me to understand why the Ohlone Indians called Concha "La Beata," the Blessed One. I call her "Saint Concha" because she certainly has been and continues to be one to me.