Cuatro Corridos: A Chamber Opera
ALBUM TITLE: Vásquez, Sierra, Liang and Paredes
WORKS: Cuatro Corridos
PERFORMER: Susan Narucki (soprano), Pablo Gomez (guitar), Aleck Karis (piano), Ayano Kataoka (percussion)
CATALOGUE NO: BRIDGE 9473
The Mexico-US border is the most frequently crossed international boundary in the world, with hundreds of millions of legal crossings a year. Mexican novelist Jorge Volpi became interested in the stories of those who cross this border illegally – in particular the horrific experiences of the women from Tenancingo, Tlaxcala who were for years forced, often by their own families, into prostitution in the strawberry fields of California.
Soprano Susan Narucki, also the moving soloist here, commissioned an opera libretto by Volpi on the subject. Its four scenes, each essentially a monologue, feature viewpoints of four women, each by a different composer – two Mexican, two American. In this committed performance, it’s strikingly effective; even better, I imagine, heard and seen live. Scored for soprano, guitar, percussion and piano, the stark soundworld is a good match for the bleak subject matter. Hebert Vásquez draws on the Mexican corrido – a ballad-type song or poem – with piano and guitar jostling in aptly unsettling fashion while the narrator, Acuzena, sings of women ‘bought and sold to appease men’s hunger and lust’. Arlene Sierra gives us the sounds of horses and a panicked heartbeat in her portrait of the guilt-ridden trafficker Dalia. Lei Liang’s ‘Rose’ is the only scene in English, a slow drumbeat underscoring a police statement whose facts are devastatingly powerful. Hilda Paredes’s ‘La Tierra del Miel’ is the longest of the quartet, in which Violeta recounts the tragic fate of the murdered Iris. This isn’t an easy listen or easy subject matter, but then what excuse do we have to look away?