Ghost Waltz at LATC Reclaims an Important Heritage

Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Oliver Mayer’s Ghost Waltz relays the true story of a “lost” composer, Juventino Rosas, through his interactions with “Nightingale,’ a popular opera star of the time and, at the 1893 Worlds Fair, his friendship with America’s Scott Joplin whose ragtime music includes references to Rosas’ waltz.  This fascinating stew shows the result of meticulous research, imaginative recreations, and, of course, the compelling nature of the music —- both Rosas’ and Joplin’s. Mayer relates (in Zocalo Square) “As a playwright, my job is to shine a light on these layers of whitewash hiding Rosas and so many others like him.” 

At LATC, Mayer’s play comes together with the help of director Alberto Barboza, with musical director, Alberto Lopez, imaginatively interweaving scenes and vocals on a combination set.  The excellent musicianship of Quetzal Guerrero who plays Rosas, Ric’Key Pageot as Scott Joplin,  and soprano Nathalie Pena-Comas as “Nightingale,” sets the scene as no other medium. We are whisked away in our imaginations to the 1890s when fame brought distant protagonists together as nothing else could.

Rather than following a factual timeline, Mayer conceives of Rosas’ story lyrically, interweaving blessings of the four corners, Nahuatl prayers, along with vignettes interconnecting the three protagonists in their disparate, shortened, life journeys.  Significantly, the line, “life has no story unless you make one” describes the process.

At the heart of the piece, Mayer imagines the benefit that may have resulted when Joplin, who could not read music, and Rosas, who could, became friends.  The scenes with Pageot as Joplin and Guerrero as Rosas feel as if we’re at the front row on club night.  To abet the magical ambiance, director Barboza called on Emily Anne MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Mock to pair up for scenic, costume, and projection design, aided by Giovanni Ortega as choreographer.  The crucial lighting came from Johnny Garofalo.

From the atmospheric drapes and blueish lighting of the opening, through significant spotlight framing Nightingale’s performances, and the repeated motif of Rosas’ signature waltz, “Sobre las Olas” from the off-stage ensemble, Ghost Waltz hits every note.

Ghost Waltz continues at LATC, 514 S. Spring St., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 4 pm through June 2nd, 2024. Tickets range from $10 to $48, with student and Sr. discounts available.  For information,  or tickets call (213) 489-0994 or go online to: