The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Features

October 22, 2012

Opera takes hold in Mexico's dangerous cities

MEXICO CITY — In high times and low, Mexicans turn to their music. To love, to lament, there's Mexican music for every occasion: poetic ballads, bouncy polkas, rodeo rancheras, plus goth rock, marimba, Mexican metal, you name it.

And then there's opera.

"The warmth, the emotion conveyed by the Latin voice, that you hear in popular music like the mariachi, you hear the same thing - romance, tragedy - at the opera," said Charles Oppenheim, editor of ProOpera, a private nonprofit promoting the sublime art in the Americas, and himself a singer.

Mexico boasts a dozen resident opera companies, but lately the art form has also taken hold in cities more associated with mayhem than mezzo-sopranos, like Ciudad Juarez, which hosts four major productions a year, rivaling Mexico City's schedule.

The citizens of Juarez, a.k.a. Murder City, don't need to speak French to understand Georges Bizet's "Carmen," staged twice in the city - an opera complete with lawless smugglers, occupying soldiers and factory workers. Change the costumes and stage sets from 1820 Seville to Juarez in 2010, the peak of the drug war there, and it works as a contemporary morality play, the original narco-opera.

Even during the worst years of spectacular public violence, the Tijuana Opera bravely continued to showcase its free "Opera in the Streets" festival. This summer, the company staged the comic opera "Cinderella" in the historic Colonia Libertad barrio a short walk from the San Ysidro border crossing. More than 10,000 people attended.

Trying to dispel the aura of elitism, Maria Teresa Rique, director of the Tijuana Opera, told reporters in her city: "Opera won't bite you. You just have to feel it."

In Tijuana lately, as part of a program to take back public space lost to fear and insecurity, opera singers have begun to pop up disguised as ordinary citizens at unexpected venues: the bus station, busy markets, street corners, the airport, cantinas and a low-wage assembly factory. Then they burst into a song.

"When people hear this, they have been confused, then moved. Some have cried," said Virgilio Munoz, director of the Tijuana Cultural Center. "They have been amazed that someone who looks just like us, this ordinary person, is suddenly singing in a voice that is so beautiful."

The cultural center's Opera Ambulante, or Itinerant Opera, has staged 30 flash performances over the past year.

In the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, a couple of retired American opera professionals have been hosting a week-long course and contest for aspiring young Mexican opera singers for the past five years.

"I was determined not to have anything to do with opera, but when I heard these incredible voices, I couldn't resist," said Joseph McClain, former general and artistic director of the Austin Lyric Opera, who now teaches at the annual San Miguel contest.

 "The Mexican voice has fire, a brilliance, a light, but it also has this darkness," McClain said. "The singers have this connection, this access to their feelings. It's very intense, very immediate, no apologies. And of course, that is the world of opera, that volcano of emotion."

The singers receive a week of coaching from the professionals, in diction, language, dramatic acting - training that is expensive or hard to find in Mexico for young talent. At the end of the course, a dozen singers perform in front of a packed house at the Angela Peralta Theater. This year, the winner received a scholarship and a debut performance with the Acapulco Philharmonic Orchestra.

"The audience in San Miguel think they're at a soccer game," McClain said. "They're yelling and clapping and cheering. It's just wonderful."

Washington Post special correspondent Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
Features
  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • This Weekend in Stanly County

    After a week at work, weekends are a good time to get out into the fresh air on these long, balmy summer days. Stanly County offers plenty of places for you to do just that.

    July 29, 2014

  • Ruth Moose Author inks book deal from 26-year-old draft

    After 26 years tucked away in a drawer, one might think the story had grown stale, that it had sat in the dark too long to be revived into something palatable.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Uwharrie Players No. 1 Anyone know whodunit?

    So whodunit?
    Forget Col. Mustard, the library and the candlestick, this time it was the drama student in the Jesse F. Niven Center with the bottle of poison.
    At this year’s Uwharrie Players Drama Camp, campers took the stage not just to act, but to figure out who poisoned Gladdis, the talent scout.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Kudzu Quiche A Bonus in Study of Invasive Species

    High School students who chose to study invasive species during their week at the National Environmental Summit at Catawba College probably didn't think they'd be baking a kudzu quiche. But they did, and they served it, along with other kudzu creations, at the final festival.

    July 19, 2014

  • Pottery No. 1 Wheel of Clay

    Rome wasn’t built in a day and a potter wasn’t made in one either, Seagrove potter Sid Luck, 69, said at his pottery class at the Niven’s Center Tuesday.

    July 15, 2014 3 Photos

  • Archie Smith Psaltery Sounds

    About two years ago, Archie Smith got into an argument with his table saw.
    As he says, the table saw won.

    June 30, 2014 3 Photos

  • P1160049_zps0528ec83.jpg Jammin' at Junior's

    Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “ … in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If Franklin was alive today in western Stanly County, he would need to amend his statement to include “and Friday night jam sessions at Junior Harris’.”

    June 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • KelliePickler_TheWomanIAm_LPCover.png Kellie Pickler set to release album with limited edition vinyl pressing

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Black River Entertainment announced the release of a limited edition vinyl version of country music singer/songwriter Kellie Pickler’s critically-acclaimed current album, The Woman I Am.  This is the first vinyl album for Kellie Pickler, and it features exclusive cover art, different from the CD version.

    June 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • wedding (12 of 21).tif Fairy Tales Can Come True

    Once upon a time in Stanfield a little girl was born, but experienced problems during her delivery. Five years earlier, a little boy was born in Georgia with similar complications. Both suffered a brain bleed during child birth and had ventricular shunts placed in their heads.

    June 16, 2014 3 Photos

House Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Featured Comment
Twitter Updates
Seasonal Content
Poll

Will you participate in March Madness?

Yes I watch the games and complete a bracket.
Yes I complete a bracket.
No
     View Results