July 23, 2024

‘Dreams Have No Borders’: Filmed opera to premiere in Ashland

The Teokalli Aztec dancers in "Dreams Have No Borders." Chava Florendo photo
June 13, 2024

Locals produced film weaving music, words, images to tell story of a mother and her son seeking a place to be

By Lucie K. Scheuer for

Over the past one hundred years the Rogue Valley has become a culturally diverse haven for thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Indeed, Latinos now make up almost 15% of the population. They have played an indispensable role in the incredible growth of wineries, fruit-farming, and major industries in our region. From dusty towns along the Texas and California borders, across the vast, dry desert to the tidy orchards and streets of Talent, Phoenix and Central Point, their legacies, their stories of survival, run deeply through our communities.

Long before the devastation of the Almeda Fire and COVID-19, Latino families from countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras faced daunting odds escaping genocide, cartels and abject poverty.

The “Dreams Have No Borders” cast and crew. Chava Florendo photo

Now two of Ashland’s most prolific, socially conscious artists — chamber opera composer Ethan Gans-Morse and his co-writer, poet-librettist Tizania DellaRovere — are celebrating the heritage, struggles, triumphs and stories of these brave people in an opera film.

“Dreams Have No Borders: Los sueños no tienen fronteras” is based on the real-life stories of immigrants in the Rogue Valley Latino community. The story has been braided into one, heart-rending strand about a younger sister from Mexico whose husband has been murdered by cartel members. Taking her infant son, she begins the long, arduous journey to be reunited with her older sister in the U.S.

The trailer for “Dreams Have No Borders,” a film production of a new opera by composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere based on stories collected within the Latino community of Southern Oregon.

The filmed 90-minute chamber opera in English and Spanish, five years in the making, will premiere in Ashland at the Varsity Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, June 23.

Produced by local nonprofit Anima Mundi Productions and based on the real-life stories of Latino immigrants in the Rogue Valley, the film features three Grammy-winning singers (soprano Estelí Gomez, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte and tenor David M. Sanchez), the Delgani String Quartet, the Teokalli Aztec Dancers, stage direction by Valerie Rachelle (Oregon Cabaret Theatre), and film direction by three-time Emmy award-winning filmmaker Jan Thompson.

Ethan Gans-Morse conducting “Dreams Have No Borders.” Chava Florendo photo

It is all part of a planned weekend that also includes two free events:

• A conversation with the film’s creators and Latino community leaders at 6 p.m. Friday, June 21, at El Tapatio Restaurant, 1633 Highway 99 North, Ashland. Complimentary food will be available. Organizers ask those planning to attend to RSVP at

• The weekend concludes with an art exhibit and opportunity to meet the artists at a reception at Art & Soul Ashland art gallery after the film screening Sunday afternoon. Artwork painted by teens in the Forward Youth program and created especially for this event under the mentorship of Medford artist Adrian Chavez will be on display. The reception is set for 5 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at 247 E. Main St. Complimentary refreshments will be available.

Filmmakers tell the story of making the story
Ethan Gans-Morse, composer. Nina Johnson photo

Gans-Morse and DellaRovere recently took some time out from their hectic promotional tour, to talk a little bit about the inspiration they received for this masterwork and its significance for today.

“We began this project in 2018, back before any of us could have predicted the twists and turns of the COVID era,” said Gans-Morse. “The suffering taking place at the U.S.-Mexico border dominated the news then, and little has changed in that regard. Tiziana and I live a privileged life, but our hearts break for our many Mexican-American friends and neighbors.

“When we started out, we didn’t know what the plot of the opera would be. We worked with Latino community leaders and nonprofit advocates to hear people’s stories in a safe and trusting way, and we discovered how many people in the Rogue Valley — wonderful people who were contributing enormously to the wealth and culture of our region — 11were undocumented when they arrived. We learned about their emotional and physical trauma, about their hopes and dreams and motivations, about how they’d learned not to draw attention to themselves and had lived in fear.”

Tiziana DellaRovere, poet and librettist. Chava Florendo photo

Gans-Morse says in developing the storyline, they wanted viewers to understand these immigrants are not just coming from Mexico. “We created the Honduran character of Gabrielito to push back against the stereotype that all Latin Americans crossing the border are Mexican,” he said, “when at the time we were writing the piece, the majority of asylum seekers were Central American.”

From the time this work took on a life of its own, it cried out for someone who could distill these immigrants’ survival experiences into a story that was relatable and inspiring.

DellaRovere says coming to the U.S. from Milano, Italy, when she was 22 was not as difficult as immigration is for those who have come from Central America. But she understands the isolation, fear and culture shock that comes from leaving your beloved home to live in another country.

The deets
Premiere showings of “Dreams Have No Borders (Los sueños no tienen fronteras)” start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St.
Call 541-833-3066 or visit for tickets and information (do not call the Varsity Theatre). General seating is $20. Student tickets ($10) and tickets for Oregon Trail Card holders ($5) will be available at the door.
Approximately 90 minutes. No intermission. All singing subtitled. About 90% English, 10% Spanish.

“I don’t want to compare my challenges with asylum seekers who have had to risk everything because their lives are in danger,” DellaRovere said. “In my case, I lived the emotional and physical struggle of leaving behind my culture, my traditions, food, language, my friends and family. It was particularly excruciating to leave my sister, Marina.

“So, infused between the lines of ‘Dreams Have No Borders,’ there is my own personal experience of loss, which brings me close to the heartbreak expressed in the story, which comes from the longing for love between two sisters divided by a border.”

What is the magic that brings Gans-Morse’s and DellaRovere’s hearts and minds together to create these musical morality plays?

Gans-Morse explains: “Tiziana and I are united in the same worldview, the same foundation in our approach. For us, the quality of the art is extremely important, but for us, the meaning of our work comes from the impact it can have on our audience. That means choosing themes that instill compassion, that tell the stories of people who have been marginalized and excluded, that reconnect people with their humanity and the humanity of others.”

Ashland resident Lucie K. Scheuer is director and coordinator for two nonprofits in the Rogue Valley: Heart Rising Foundation (aiding Almeda Fire victims) and Uniting for Ukraine RV (aiding emigrating Ukrainian refugees). She is also a former copy editor and staff writer with the Los Angeles Times, where her work included features, reviews and a column on films in production. Email her at

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Bert Etling

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