APRIL 2, 2017
WHEN JORGE VOLPI, the librettist of Cuatro Corridos, received a commission from soprano Susan Narucki, an esteemed champion of new music who now teaches at the University of California at San Diego, he knew he wanted to write about human trafficking, a subject that had tormented him for years. Volpi’s libretto consists of one monologue for each of four characters, and he enlisted four different composers to set each. Reflecting the bi-national nature of the project, two of the composers are Mexican, and the other two are from the U.S.
In the first monologue, with music by Hebert Vázquez, we hear from Azucena, a prostitute. The piece starts as a Mexican folk ballad, a simple waltz tune on the guitar, with an overlay of creatively dissonant piano. After two stanzas, however, it turns ominous and distorted. “Off you go, daughter,” Azucena recalls her father saying. The music is still rhythmic, but syncopated, jagged and much more discordant. It’s like warped calypso music, mirroring the horrible life into which the young woman is about to be forced. There’s a return to the more comfortable rhythm and harmony of the beginning, but then it turns slow, shard-like and menacing with rapidly oscillating guitar figures, bowed marimba and insinuating upper register piano figures. After a Bartókian frenzy for piano and percussion, the cheery song accompaniment returns in E major, and it’s devastating.
In the second monologue, with music by Arlene Sierra, we hear from Dalia, a former prostitute who is now a trafficker herself. This movement doesn’t bother, like the first one does, with familiar harmonies and rhythms. Sierra makes calculatedly spare use of the instruments, emphasizing bleakness and pessimism. Dalia reacts with shame and bitterness to what her life has become. The movement dies away with quiet despair.
The third section, by Lei Liang, is the only one in English. Now we hear from a policewoman announcing that the Salazar brothers, ringleaders of the real-life Tenancingo trafficking network, have been arrested (this actually happened in 2001). The first stanza is spoken to the stern rhythmic accompaniment of a drum; the character doesn’t sing until the end of the second stanza, on the phrase “a gang of criminal pimps.” This fragmented and frenzied monologue seems inspired by Chinese opera in its use of percussion and swooping vocals; it gives the policewoman a blazing characterization.
In the final monologue, with music by Hilda Paredes, a woman (Violeta) sings about her friend Iris, who did not survive the ordeal. The musical language is economical, anguished and almost anarchic; then it builds to savage pounding and thrashing, giving the impression that societal norms have disintegrated. The syllabically intoned final line (“I wither from sadness / a flower without dew”) is heartbreaking.
Narucki is a Ninja warrior in her ability to traverse this unrelentingly difficult (both musically and emotionally) hour-long work with such immersive passion and intensity. All four composers make brilliantly imaginative use of the instrumental forces, and the astoundingly virtuosic players—Pablo Gómez on guitar, Aleck Karis on piano and Ayano Kataoka on percussion—are vital to the success of the performance. This piece is bracingly fresh, continuously fascinating and deeply disturbing; somehow, though, you emerge with a sense of optimism that, in the proper hands, ghastly human tragedies can result in great art. — Joshua Rosenblum
March 27, 2017
For our eighth chamber opera, kallisti presents a double bill of Poulenc's La voix humaine, featuring soprano Hillary Jean Young and pianist Kyle Blair and three rarely heard micro-operas by American minimalist Tom Johnson. Poulenc's 1958 monodrama for solo soprano, with its psychological complexity, is juxtaposed with Johnson's exploration into the humorous and absurd. Featuring kallisti: membersKirsten Ashley Wiest, Lauren Jones and Jonathan Nussman. Both words produced by artistic director Susan Narucki, with lighting design by Jessica C. Flores.
Performances on Wednesday, May 10, Friday May 12 and Saturday May 13, all at 7 p.m., in the Experimental Theater of the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UC San Diego.
February 14, 2017
Henry Fogel of Fanfare and Susan Narucki chat about Cuatro Corridos, future projects and the path to a thirty-year career.
I guess I will begin with one of the obvious questions that Cuatro Corridos raises right away. You clearly decided that it would be a serious, even deeply disturbing (as well as moving) work, dealing with one of the most horrible subjects we face today: human trafficking and prostitution. What drew you to that subject?
That's an interesting question with a rather complex answer. Prior to joining the faculty of UC San Diego in 2008, I had spent the previous quarter century simply performing. I cherish the experiences that I had during that part of my life. I collaborated with remarkable colleagues all across the globe. I was completely immersed in performing music; that was my intense, sole focus.
But seven or eight years ago, I started thinking about the relationship that my profession - the creation and performance of the music of our time - has to contemporary society. We don't find it odd that other forms of artistic expression, such as visual art, drama, and film can speak directly to complex, critical issues in modern life. Why shouldn't contemporary music have the same capacity and claim its power to do the same?
Cuatro Corridos deals with the trafficking of women across the border from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, to serve as sex workers for illegal migrants who pick strawberries in the northern part of San Diego County. It's a complicated, emotionally charged story. I certainly wasn't drawn to this subject, but when I became aware of the reality behind this story, I could not look away.
January 29, 2017
" ...Cuatro Corridos (“Four Ballads”, 2012-3) is a very different proposition, though its tragic bearing is coupled with a high seriousness of purpose in exposing a terrible wrong. The four scenes of this viscerally gripping chamber opera, scored for just four performers to Jorge Vilpi’s no-holds-barred libretto, are by four different composers—split equally between Mexico and the US, male and female—and relate stages in the exposure of an horrific human trafficking ring in northern Mexico. Each scene is in effect a monologue centred on a particular character in the sorry tale. Azucena, by Hebert Vasquez, is one of the trafficked women whose journey into abuse takes the form of the Mexican ballad form, the corrido. Vasquez’s use of the folk idiom is entirely different in technique to Holst’s use of folk idiom Dalia is the matriarchal pedlar caught in the panic of imminent arrest by British-resident Arlene Sierra’s subtle score, combining raw vocal terror with an at times euphonious accompaniment the furious pace of which emulates the criminal’s racing heartbeat. Rose (by Lei Liang) is a police officer almost imprisoned in the press conference relating the details of the ring’s breaking. Hilda Paredes’ concluding La Tierra del Miel tells the story of the murdered iris, but through the voice of another victim, Violeta. The soprano Susan Narucki, who commissioned the project for the University of California at San Diego, commands as the various women in an operatic tour-de-force, but credit must go too to her more-than-accompanists: guitarist Pablo Gomez, pianist Aleck Karis and percussionist Ayano Kataoka, whose contributions are just as individually and collectively vital as that of the four musicians in what seems, with hindsight, the progenitor work of Cuatro Corridos: Henze’s El Cimarron which also dealt with a difficult subject, the endurance of and escape from slavery. Cuatro Corridos is a remarkable achievement. The performance is superb and Bridge’s recording a triumph. "
- Guy Rickards
January 12, 2017
"...Clearly, Cuatro Corridos is not for the faint of heart. This is powerful, compelling, excruciatingly dramatic music. Although each composer has his or her own voice, the fact that they share both the subject and the instrumentation manages to give the work a strong artistic unity... Cuatro Corridos is music that demands your full attention, .... the work has a surprisingly strong overall shape.
The first, Herbert Vázquez’s Azucena, begins with music that clearly is rooted in the folk music of Mexico... Vazquez’s vocal writing is particularly effective and powerful. Dalia is next, by Arlene Sierra, and is the most starkly dramatic scene in some ways... inner torment, guilt, and pain is searingly reflected in Sierra’s music. Rose’s monologue covers a huge range..Liang’s music is unbearably searing, making wide use of the colors available to him in the percussion instruments and writing a jagged vocal line that conveys the bitterness and frustration in the text. Last is Violetta, who tells a story of both herself and a murdered friend, Iris. This is the most horrible of all the stories, the immediacy of its impact made conveyed by both the words and by Hilda Paredes’s music.
The performance seems ideal. Narucki manages the huge vocal and dramatic demands with ease, displaying an ability to sing softly and at full throttle without ever losing tonal body, and an equal ability to invest what she is singing with meaning. Her instrumental partners are completely committed and perform brilliantly.
This is a work of art that demands engagement, requires that you give it 100% of your intellectual and emotional attention. If you do, I believe you might find it as rewarding as I did—chilling, at moments horrifying, but, yes, rewarding. It is clearly not music for everyone. But for those with an adventurous soul, open to various strands of music being written today, this one is highly recommended."
- Henry Fogel, Fanfare
January 6, 2017
"... Lewis again provides artful, sophisticated sonorities, as if love opens up previouslyunexplored harmonic possibilities.
After those two cycles, the ear needs a break from the vocal quartet texture, which Lewis provides with his early cycle Three Songs From Ish River (1976–78) for
soprano and guitar (Lewis’s own instrument), to poems by Theodore Roethke. The moving, folk-like elegy “Going Out to Meet the Moon Whales” is striking inits relative simplicity. The cycle’s first entry, “What day is it now?,” shows more harmonic and melodic inventiveness; together, the two songs show Lewis’s creative range in writing for the voice-and-guitar. The versatile, accomplished soprano Susan Narucki and dexterous guitarist Colin McAllister perform all three songs smoothly and persuasively." —Joshua Rosenblum
December 13, 2016
"Inheritance" at UC San Diego Department of Music awarded Artworks Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
La Jolla, CA —National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017. Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to the Department of Music at UC San Diego for the development of "Inheritance" a chamber opera collaboration between UCSD Professors Lei Liang and Susan Narucki. The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.
“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as the Department of Music at the University of California at San Diego, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”
"We are so delighted that Inheritance has earned an Artworks grant," said Liang and Narucki in a joint statement. "The entire creative team is committed to creating an opera that will open a space for dialogue and reflection about a critical issue in American society. We are immensely grateful to have earned the support of the National Endowment for the Arts."
The NEA Artworks grant will help to support the commission, development, and premiere of a multimedia chamber opera "Inheritance" by composer Lei Lang and featuring soprano Susan Narucki. With libretto by poet Matt Donovan, the opera is rooted in the life and legacy of Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester gun-manufacturer fortune and follows the eccentric widow who is self-imprisoned in her home, seeking refuge from the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. The work will view Sarah's life as a metaphor and a means to explore society's complex relationship with guns, and will incorporate social awareness through satellite events that will result in symposiums and panel discussions about guns and violence in America. The production team is led by artist Ligia Bouton and will include a multimedia environment comprised of video, photography, and complex interactive costuming. As many as three performances and a conference will take place at the University of California at San Diego in the fall of 2018.
As Inheritance enters the second year of development, Donovan's libretto is in its final stages of revision and key personnel are joining the project, including opera director Acushla Bastible. In addition, the creative team has been awarded a residency at the Leighton Artists Colony at the Banff Center for the Arts in the summer of 2017 for a workshop and development sessions. Inheritance is the recipient of a 2016 Creative Capital Award.
For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.
For more information about Inheritance, visit http://www.inheritance-opera.com/
November 17, 2016
"If classical music and classically trained artists are relevant in the contemporary canon, it is because of projects like Cuatro Corridos (Four Songs). While opinion makers argue about the issue of relevancy, artists like American soprano Susan Narucki and her collaborators are making it happen."
November 16, 2016
The world premiere recording of the remarkable chamber opera, set to a libretto by Mexican novelist Jorge Volpi, and commissioned and performed by American soprano Susan Narucki has been released on Bridge Records. In his program note, librettist Volpi writes that "the stories told in the opera help us to hear and see precisely what we prefer to ignore and pass over in silence".
The recording of Cuatro Corridos was supported in part through generous grants from the Alice M. Ditson Fund, NewMusicUSA, and the University of Calfornia at San Diego. It features music by Hebert Vázquez, Arlene Sierra, Lei Liang and Hilda Paredes with performances by Aleck Karis (piano), Ayano Kataoka (percussion) and Pablo Gomez (guitar).
Commissioned by Susan Narucki in 2011, Cuatro Corridos had its premiere at the University of California at San Diego in 2013. Since that time, the project has been performed in the United States and Mexico over a dozen times, earning widespread critical acclaim. Cuatro Corridos earned the support of the MAP Fund for the Performing Arts, UC MEXUS, Yellow Barn, the University of California, Conaculta, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
November 1, 2016
Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone on San Francisco based composer Peter Scott Lewis' stunning Naxos release of vocal works, including Three Songs from Ish River, performed by Susan Narucki and Colin McAllister.
October 27, 2016
“For we who make song must remember that we sing to the ears of others. That the price of being listened to is being heard. That we must be careful when we whisper nothings, for they are not always so sweet as we’d wish them to be.” open the liner notes of the 2016 Innova recording Poems of Sheer Nothingness: Vocal Music of Aaron Helgeson. The album includes Aaron Helgeson‘s works Poems of Sheer Nothingness (2012-2013) and Notes on a Page (of Sappho) (2009), featuring soprano Susan Narucki and Talea Ensemble conducted by James Baker. Hegelson’s printed words give the listener insight into the multiple layers of complexity in which he approached these compositions. There is the text as it was when it was written. There is the text as Helgeson approached it when setting it to music. There is the text as it was performed. Finally, there is the text as it is heard. Each of these experiences adds a layer of meaning and imagination, which partially works to open up the text as well as continue its secrecy.
Helgeson’s contemplation of these Occitan troubadour song texts for Poems of Sheer Nothingness and Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho fragments for Notes on a Page (of Sappho) was the genesis for the sounds themselves in what he calls a “contemporary context.” Helgeson’s constructed dreamscape–as in Poems #1, “Farai un vers de drey nïen“–and elaborate sound world–as in Poems #3, “Bem degra de chantar tener“–is carried out skillfully by the confident work of Talea Ensemble. The existential suffering of the Occitan troubadour texts in Poems #5, “A penas sai commensar,” comes through as a languishing in all of the instruments as opposed to a raging ferocity. This music isn’t suspenseful; but rather, suspended. The confidence and skill of all of the musicians is in this ability: to judiciously exploit subtlety while completely avoiding any one voice screaming for attention even when Helgeson asks for extreme ranges.
Soprano Susan Narucki is a natural choice for performing Helgeson’s vocal music. If it wasn’t written to her strengths as a vocalist, one would never know. She has an elegant way of working with words themselves in this recording. Even when she chooses breathy effects or softer dynamics, the text still shines through with clarity. Narucki demonstrates a suggested connection to larger phrases in Poems of Sheer Nothingness with the verses; but, also in Notes on a Page (of Sappho) even though the phrases are simply fragments. An excellent example of Narucki’s special tonal brilliance and text clarity occurs in the last few moments of Notes on a Page (of Sappho) on,
and neither any [ ] nor any
holy place nor
was there from which we were absent
no grove [ ] no dance
] no sound
She beautifully intones the descending vocal line to a pure lower register ebb and flow on the “no grove, no dance, no sound.”
While Helgeson doesn’t describe Notes on a Page (of Sappho) as sparse; but rather, rich and lush, there is definitely attention to the sonic spacing of sounds. One hears the Talea Ensemble employing breath effects, string piano, tongue clicks, harmonic slides, and harp tremolo to create these wisps of sound. As a composer, Helgeson clearly does not fear silences but hears them as a buoyant, active aspect of Notes on a Page (of Sappho), and Talea Ensemble is very effective in conveying that structure. Helgeson creates a sense of motion in this final 16’ piece on the recording with both sound and silence. He does this within each instrumentalist’s phrase and in the overall structure of the piece. A sound that initially presents as slightly static gains traction in either volume or pitch which pushes into the next musical thought or hands off to the next keeper of aural attention.
This recording, Poems of Sheer Nothingness: Vocal Music of Aaron Helgeson, requires an active listener who is ready to have their imagination sparked by the sounds and silences in the music. It seems as though Helgeson, and Narucki with Talea Ensemble through their performance, desire that slight drifting of listener attention into imaginative thought and relish being able to refocus the attention on a new sound time and again. Listeners can put themselves in the place of the singer becoming somewhat lost in the act of singing and thereby find themselves, quite wonderfully, lost in the act of listening.
October 20, 2016
Peter Scott Lewis New Music
The music of San Francisco composer Peter Scott Lewis combines ingratiating surfaces — strong-boned tonal harmonies and melodic gracefulness — with secure structural underpinnings that keep everything logically in place. The results come through handsomely in this compilation of four song cycles of various hues and scales, all of them performed with delicacy and vigor. Two of the pieces are for vocal quartet (the aptly named New York Virtuoso Singers Quartet), and Lewis makes canny use of this textural resource — particularly in “The Changing Light,” a group of Lawrence Ferlinghetti settings that capture the poet’s spacious, muscular rhetoric and crisply turned lines. Even more arresting are the solo works, beginning with “Where the Heart Is Pure,” a slimmed-down version of a 1993 work that sounds all the sleeker with just piano accompaniment; mezzo-soprano Christine Abraham and pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi bring out the music’s vaulting pictorialism.
But the tiny, sparkling gem here is “Three Songs From Ish River,” a gorgeous and maddeningly brief triptych delivered superbly by soprano Susan Narucki and guitarist Colin McAllister. It’s painful to arrive so quickly at the end. — Joshua Kosman
PETER SCOTT LEWIS
August 16, 2016
On August 20 2016, CANAL 22 International will broadcast Imaginante Productions film of Cuatro Corridos on international affiliate stations, including in the United States. The hour-long broadcast will take place on at 16:30 Central Time/14:30 Pacific Time. Cuatro Corridos was performed at the Theatre de las Artes, CENART, Mexico City in May, 2015; the hour long film is a full presentation of the last performance of three performances. This is the fourth broadcast of Cuatro Corridos on Canal 22 since its debut in September 2015.
August 10, 2016
Soprano Susan Narucki's coming season is a reflection of her continued commitment to the performance of the music of our time, the creation of new works for voice, and placing music at the center of significant conversations. August, 2016 sees the Naxos elease of American composer Peter Lewis's CD, . The Four Cycles. The disc includes Three Songs from Ish River, recorded by Susan Narucki and guitarist Colin McAllister. Peter Scott Lewis is based in San Francisco, and his deeply expressive music is much in demand; The Four Cycles collects his complete vocal music to date. Where the Heart Is Pure depicts the natural world around the Skagit River in Washington State where the poet Robert Sund, a close friend of the composer, made his home. Themes of light and love are embraced by the rich sonorities of a vocal quartet, while the Three Songs From Ish River examine the history of the Pacific Northwest.
Highlights of the upcoming season includes a celebration of American music with the Louisville Orchestra conducted by Teddy Evans. in April, 2017. In addition, the soprano collaborates with American pianist Donald Berman in a new recital offering, which includes works of Győrgy Kurtág, and Robert Schumann and with the ensemble kallisti, joins the La Jolla Symphony in performances of Berio's Sinfonia.
Ms. Narucki continues development of the chamber opera Inhertiance with composer Lei Liang, librettist Matt Donovan and artist Ligia Bouton. Supported by the Creative Capital Foundation, the opera addresses America's complicated relationship with guns, and is scheduled for performance in Fall, 2018. Her kallisti ensemble will present "Re-imagining Opera" an unorthodox evening of new works, in partnership with Stanford University. Ms. Narucki is one of the invited speakers at the 2017 National Opera Association conference, and will speak about the power of 21st Century Opera to create conversations that matter. Finally, November 2016 sees the long-awaited CD release of Cuatro Corridos, a chamber opera addressing the subject of human trafficking, on Bridge Records.
June 22, 2016
Bridge Records, one of the finest American independent classical recording labels, has announced its release list for Fall of 2016, includingthe world premiere recording of CUATRO CORRIDOS, produced by Grammy Award winning producer Adam Abeshouse. The recording of the opera, supported in part by NewMusicUSA and the Alice M. Ditson Fund, takes it place alongside world premiere recordings by some of the world's leading musicians, all to be released before the close of the year.
May 12, 2016
"...an elegant, slow moving exposition of the subconscious thoughts and inner arguments of the six cast members....This constantly shifting sonic world proved fascinating and effective, brilliantly played by a crack team of thirteen musicians ably conducted by Dana Sadava...
The leads sang with a sound and control of the composer’s difficult musical lines that one might expect from totally mature new music specialists..
...The extremely effective minimalist production and the slow moving video projection of the chief characters during their individual arias gave us an unexpected pathway into their tortured subconscious...
...This was a fully professional production in the best sense of the word. If it was ever to be characterized as a “student production,” it would be so in name only..."
May 5, 2016
Preview article by Beth Wood, San Diego Union Tribune of the world premiere chamber opera "Noon at Dusk" at UCSD, performed by singers of kallisti, produced and directed by Susan Narucki. Dana Sadava leads the ensemble, and cast including Tiffany Du Mouchelle, Ashley Cutright, Kirsten Wiest, Hillary Jean Young, Jonathan Nussman and Philip Larson.
March 19 2016
By Beth Wood, San Diego Union Tribune"San Diego’s vibrant classical music scene encompasses such a variety of styles and talents that picking 10 not-to-miss concerts is a challenge. From the masters to the upstarts, soloists to orchestras, singers to sitarists, this spring offers an embarrassment of concert choices. Think of these 10 as an aural tasting, whetting your appetite for the many other treats in store this spring... Founded by boundary-pushing singer Susan Narucki, the Kallisti Ensemble forges ahead with the world premiere of this chamber opera about two couples’ colliding professional and romantic aspirations. It was composed by Stephen Lewis, with a libretto by Yi Hong Sim. Performers include sopranos Kirsten Ashley Wiest and Hilary Young, mezzo-soprano Ashley Cutright and baritones Philip Larson and Jonathan Nussman." READ THE FULL ARTICLE
March 18 2016
On Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 4 p.m. C.S.T., Cuatro Corridos, will be re-broadcast nationally on Canal 22, Mexico's national arts and culture broadcast station.
The film was of a live performance that we gave in Mexico City on May 17, 2015 at CENART performing arts center, Mexico City's most prestigious center for the performing arts.
The film was first broadcast last September, and is being rebroadcast now by popular demand.
February 1, 2016
Cuatro Corridos has been awarded a grant from NewMusic USA, made possible by annual program support and/or endowment gifts of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust. The prestigious national service organization is devoted to aiding the creators and peformers of the music of our time. The grant will aid in the completion of the forthcoming CD recording on Bridge Records to be released in early summer 2016.
Cynthia Dillon, This Week at UCSD
..."Our goal is to create a work of high artistic values that can spark conversation about a very complicated and critical issue,” said Narucki, who will serve as the soprano and producer on the project.
Liang, interim chair of the UC San Diego music department and composer for Inheritance, will work in collaboration with Narucki; poet/librettist Matt Donovan, from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and production designer/artist Ligia Bouton, from the University of New Mexico. According to the four artists, through investigating this woman trapped in circumstances she inherited, by portraying the ways in which Winchester is reduced to perpetual acts of ineffectual penance, by interrogating a far-reaching history that extends from 19th-century massacres of Native Americans to contemporary school shootings in America, Inheritance is a work that hopes to raise questions about complicity, atonement and gun violence in this country.
“This is yet another project that demonstrates that there is a relevant place for new music in the on-going dialogue on important social issues,” said Liang.
January 14, 2016
By Amanda Caniglia, San Diego Magazine
The sight and sound of the chair as she dragged it across the stage made me cringe. When I headed last night to the opera Cuatro Corridos on campus at the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall, I didn’t know what to expect. The only operas I had ever seen were Aida and Madame Butterfly. And rock operas are my favorite, Jesus Christ Super Star, Elton John’s Aida, and yes, Phantom. Melodic, catchy, powerful. Music that you would want to download and listen to again and again while driving, cleaning the house, or daydreaming about a lover. Cuatro Corridos was anything but catchy and melodic, with its trio pounding and plucking away the cacophonic scores. What it was, however, was powerful. Unnerving and disturbingly powerful.
The sight of the chair scraping against the stage mixed with the chords the pianist played to mimic the movement of the protagonist got under my skin and made me want to scream. Think fingernails on a chalkboard. Times 10. But maybe that’s just the reaction Cuatro Corridos is trying to provoke? Repugnance and disgust for what happened in the lives of these innocent victims of human trafficking. I noticed I was uncomfortable the entire performance and that the music pushed me to places I didn’t want to go. But the subject matter was an uncomfortable one and the way the libretto unfolded on the screen, it was as if the music and the unveiling of the story verse by verse kept us moving forward, unwillingly at times. And then there were moments when you knew the ending but remained intrigued. Fascination with the abomination? Perhaps.
Cuatro Corridos paints four perspectives of women involved in the human trafficking that went on between the small village of Tenancingo and the U.S.–Mexico border. A young victim, a female member of the Salazar Juárez brothers’ kidnapping ring, a Chicano policewoman in San Diego, and another young woman forced to work in the “Fields of Love.”
This opera is definitely an experience that strikes a harsh chord in your gut. The music, the singing and the visuals projected on the screen all played integral roles in the telling of the stories. Unlike your usual opera, the three musicians were on stage and with a solo performer the audience was able to change their focus between the three. They could move from the pianist, guitarist, and percussionist to the soprano center stage, to the images and libretto on the screen stage left. Back and forth, letting the music and images take them on the journey. In an opera, we usually don’t focus on the musicians themselves. This chamber opera gave us the opportunity to do just that. At a symphony or concert, when on stage, a musicians performance is perceived as passionate yet graceful. The pianist last night, standing to hit high notes or pluck the strings of the piano from his baby grand, played with passion but broke from the norm. The guitarist created such odd sounds cradling his guitar while the percussionist switched neurotically from one instrument to the other. Their awkward movement added to the element of uncomfortability, mimicking the tone of the opera. At times it didn’t make sense. Yet the weaving of the three—sound, song and visuals—together had such a powerful impact. Part of me wanted to stand and run from the ugly truth. Another part of me was too intrigued to stop listening.
Is my interpretation of this production completely off? Perhaps. But art is subjective and this was my experience with the opera. I would have given anything to read the minds of the others in the audience. Were they as uncomfortable? What questions or reactions were swimming through their minds? Were they shifting in their seat, uneasy, unsettled, wanting the music to stop? It will be interesting to read about other people’s reactions. Art is meant to push and challenge us, to provoke conversation, to leave a lasting impression. Cuatro Corridos did just that.
This month is human trafficking month. Let’s not turn a blind eye. Let’s discuss.
January 12, 2016
Artistic projects that aim to reflect broad cultural conversations about gender, gun violence and race are among those chosen for nearly $4.4 million worth of grants awarded by Creative Capital, the organization announced on Tuesday.
The winning projects, 46 in all, each receive $50,000 in funding, as well as $45,000 worth of career development services provided by Creative Capital, a group known for applying principles of venture capital to arts financing. Winners were selected from a batch of 2,500 applications that represented both established and emerging artists. Past winners have included the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, the choreographer Kyle Abraham and the polymath Meredith Monk.
Chris E. Vargas, a Washington-based artist and executive director of the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art, won this year for his proposal, “Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects,” which will take the form of an exhibition and a book. Ligia Bouton, Matt Donovan and Lei Liang received financing for their chamber opera, “Inheritence,” about Sarah Winchester and the United States’s relationship with guns.
December 24, 2015
All too often, a new opera gets a single production and is never heard from again.
“Cuatro Corridos,” a chamber opera addressing human trafficking, has received more than a dozen performances around the world since its development and premiere at UC San Diego in 2013. It’s now returning to UCSD for a production at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Conrad Prebys Music Center.
“Human trafficking is a global issue; during the past year instances of international and domestic trafficking continue to come to light. Yet, there is a growing awareness – a shared context for understanding the issue and the first step toward effecting meaningful change,” said soprano Susan Narucki, the opera’s only singer and the artistic director of the project, in a statement. “I am pleased that ‘Cuatro Corridos’ continues to be a part of that change.”
Based on a libretto by Jorge Volpi, the work’s four parts (each telling the story of a different female character) are composed by four different composers: Lei Liang, Hilda Paredes, Arlene Sierra, and Hebert Vázquez. The music is performed by Narucki and pianist Aleck Karis, guitarist Pablo Gomez, and percussionist Ayano Kataoka.
It’s been presented in Los Angeles, Dallas, Albuquerque, N.M., Amherst, Mass., Tijuana, Mexico City, and Guadalajara, Mexico, among other cities, often accompanied by a panel discussion on the issue. But it has special resonance in the San Diego/Tijuana area.
“Young women are sold and exploited by mafias to serve as prostitutes for migrant workers in Southern California,” said Volpi in a statement. “In 2001 the authorities dismantled the network of the Salazar-Juárez brothers who for years kidnapped Mexican women and forced them to work as prostitutes in the ‘Fields of Love’ in the strawberry farms around San Diego.”
The project has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, UC MEXUS, The MAP Fund for the Performing Arts/Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, UC San Diego Department of Music and Division of Arts and Humanities, and the Alice M. Ditson Fund for Recorded Music, which will fund an upcoming recording.
- James Chute, San Diego Union Tribune
December 2, 2015
Approximately one thousand people attended the November 30, 2015 performance of Cuatro Corridos at the Teatro Diana in Guadalajara. Approximately two hundred people remained after the performance for a talkback session with Jorge Volpi, Susan Narucki and Pablo Gomez. The topics ranged from discussion about the production and its artistic impact to speculation on the role that art can play in dealing with the most complex societal issues.
The Guadalajara International Book Fair is the most important book fair in the Spanish speaking world and is second only to the Frankfurt International Book Fair in its size and scope. Cuatro Corridos was one of several special performing arts events presented by the conference.
Internationally renowned writer Jorge Volpi presented his newest work, a full length novel based on his libretto of Cuatro Corridos. In addition, the conference held an International Symposium on Border Security and Human Rights as one of its activities.
Press coverage was extensive and includes:
La Jornada Jalisco (Mexico)
October 5, 2015
The UMASS performance of Cuatro Corridos on October 4, 2015 was supported by an ARTWORKS grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Music at UMASS Amherst.
The eleventh performance of the critically acclaimed chamber opera was preceded by a panel discussion, The Reality of Human Trafficking. Lauren McCarthy, UMASS Amherst Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and author of the recent book Trafficking Justice, served as moderator.
Panelists included Julie A. Dahlstrom, Clinical Legal Fellow at Boston University and Quinn Kepes, Program Director at Verité, an organization dedicated to fair labor practices worldwide, and Dan Johnson from Freedom Cafe, a student run cafe that supports anti-trafficking efforts from proceeds of its sales. The 2 p.m. panel discussion was free and open to the public.
August 1, 2015
Following the successful series of performances at CENART, Mexico City in May, 2015, Cuatro Corridos was featured in the July 2015 Issue of Mexico's Siglio Nuevo Magazine.
The six page article written by Saul Rodriguez is an in-depth look at the opera and the myriad contributions by the remarkable group of people who brought it to life. Download article
Siglo Nuevo's July issue was devoted to a discussion of discrimination within Mexico; Cuatro Corridos' story deals with the trafficking of women from indigenous peoples. As Artistic Director Susan Narucki points out "Human trafficking is not a problem that resides solely in Mexico or within the United States. It is a global issue. Cuatro Corridos draws attention to one story among thousands and hopes to focus the discussion among all of us who are concerned about bringing this practice to an end."