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San Diego Opera’s Nicolas Reveles will have posthumous world premiere of his opera 'Ghosts'

Nicolas Reveles at his home rehearsing "Aftermath" last May. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last October. May 18, 2022
Nic McVicker
Nicolas Reveles at his home rehearsing "Aftermath" last May. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last October. May 18, 2022

Earlier last week opera composer Nicolas Reveles died of pancreatic cancer. For 20 years, Reveles shared his love of opera with audiences, students and anyone who would listen as San Diego Opera’s director of education and community engagement.

Reveles created two children's operas through his work at San Diego Opera; a queer opera for Diversionary Theatre and most recently the post-apocalyptic opera "Aftermath" for last year’s San Diego International Fringe Festival.

His newest work, "Ghosts," will receive its world premiere from San Diego Opera in April.


I have known Reveles for many years and interviewed him on many occasions.

I will always remember and cherish his unbridled enthusiasm and joy. He was like human champagne, just bubbling and effervescent. He had a boundless passion for opera combined with the knowledge to help make it accessible to anyone.

When I first started covering opera, I was intimidated because I’m basically tone-deaf and only knew opera through Bugs Bunny. But, Reveles helped me appreciate and understand it. I looked forward to every interview, because I knew I would learn something new and would get to spend time in his presence.

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I was also delighted by the fact that we shared a love for horror. It was somewhat unexpected that this kind, bright, ever-cheerful man was drawn to horror and darkness like me. We talked about it many times and he loved recounting this story.

When I was eight years old, my mother sat myself and my brother in front of the television set KTLA from Los Angeles and watched the first broadcast of James Whale’s Frankenstein on television. And from then on, I was hooked on horror ... there's something about the darkness and about being scared, and about telling a story that might frighten people even just a little bit that I've always enjoyed ... And so now that I'm grown up, I haven't gone very far away from it, but it's a little bit more sophisticated now, I hope.
Nicolas Reveles

Last year Reveles got to produce what he called his pandemic opera "Aftermath" at San Diego International Fringe. It was spectacular. I am so glad he got to see that produced as he envisioned it. It started as a horror opera, but transformed into something quieter and more contemplative about who we are and how we connect, especially under lockdown conditions.

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But even then he was contemplating using opera to express horror because — as he loved to point out — there is a lot of horror in opera.

"I'm a great believer that you can approach anything through opera," Reveles told me in an interview in May 2022. "I absolutely believe in the genre. I think when you sing things, the story, the drama, is more heightened; it becomes more important, it becomes bigger. And I like that. The bigness of that. I like that the emotions have the space to explode."

And his latest opera "Ghosts" will be having its world premiere on April 13 through San Diego Opera.

It is a trilogy of ghost-themed tales that he was so excited to create. He had been thinking about short form horror operas since 2010 when he did "Sextet" at Diversionary Theatre. Slowly over the years, "Ghosts" came together. John De Los Santos came on board as stage director and librettist on one of the operas.

In January, Reveles was already in hospice care, and I spoke with him via Zoom about the upcoming premiere of "Ghosts."

"I'm so excited," he said. "It's also brought back lots of family memories, touching, as it does on a little bit of my grandfather's background. My grandfather as an artist — my grandfather being a Zacatecano — my grandfather being interested in the dark as well. All of his paintings are very dark, and deal sometimes with dark subjects. I think all of those things have played into the writing of these operas."

When I learned of Reveles' death on Wednesday, I was not just saddened, but deeply angry that he could not have lived just a few weeks more so he could have seen "Ghosts" on stage.

I asked him if he knew any details about the production back in January.

"No, I just told him (director John De Los Santos) 'creepy.' I want jump scares," Reveles said. "I want everything a horror movie would have except in a slightly larger theater. We're going to be in the Balboa Theater, which is a little large for the property, but I think it'll work really well. John is a brilliant director. He'll be able to thrust things out a little bit for the audience so they'll feel like they're part of the action. I'm not worried about that. I'm concerned for the opera's future, because I would really, really like to see it have a future. And the smaller the audience, the easier it is to produce."

And hopefully the opera will have a future and serve as a part of Reveles' legacy.

San Diego Opera is seeking donations in honor of Reveles and the company's commitment to producing new works such as "Ghosts."