Tag Archives: Opera de la Calle

Guadalupe Paz & the TJ Opera Scene

For more than 15 years now, I’ve followed the way Tijuana has developed an opera scene that is one of the artistic jewels of Mexico.

One of the scene’s great products, Guadalupe Paz, a mezzosoprano, performs in Tijuana at the CECUT theater, not far from the border, on May 16.

The emergence of opera in Tijuana was a story I included in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.

It’s a bizarre tale involving the importing of an entire Russian orchestra after the end of the Cold War, and fans who acted like guerrilla warriors, fighting in DIY style to establish a beachhead for their music amid the techno, disco and ranchero.

It also involves Mercedes Quinonez, who had tried all her life to find classical voice instruction in Tijuana, only to find it too late, when she was 51. A poignant tale that I’ll never forget. (See photo below.)

Today, opera and classical music are part of the town. Growing from it all, there are today youth orchestras in some of the toughest barrios in Tijuana. (Listen to a radio story I did for LA’s radio station KCRW.)

Opera in Tijuana struck me as completely out of place with the city’s fame and reputation as a town of sin and late-night drunkenness.

But I took opera as a sign of how the town was evolving, with a middle class, an optimism, and an energy — the three of which were hard to find in combination in cities in other parts of Mexico.

That’s why I’ve spent so much time paying attention to it.

Many years ago I also did a report for NPR with my Mexico City colleague Franc Contreras about the phenomenon in Tijuana, which you can listen to here.

There’s also an annual Opera Street Festival in July that is a fantastic event, taking place 150 yards from the border wall, in Colonia Libertad, a place known more for its immigrant smugglers and the artisans who make Tijuana’s plaster Mickey Mouse statues.

Mercedes Quinonez

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MEXICO: Tijuana Opera

One of the great arts events in all Mexico takes place this Saturday in Tijuana.

It is the Tijuana Opera Street Festival (Festival Opera en la Calle), now in its ninth year.

I wrote about the robust opera scene in Tijuana in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.

The street festival grew from that scene — which itself began germinating years ago when a guy imported an entire Russian orchestra (true story) from the crumbling Soviet empire straight to Tijuana. The musicians stayed, played, taught, shaped the first classical music conservatory in Baja California. A host of local underground opera aficionados were also pushing the whole gig along — among them Enrique Fuentes, who opened a Vienna-style opera cafe in the Colonia Libertad. (photo right)

The opera scene is the fruit of their DIY labor, though it remains a little like underground music (reminds me of punk rock, in spirit anyway) in TJ, which is a city not about harmony and discipline, but where the reigning ethic is about babble, chaos and commerce.

I loved telling this story because it was about Tijuana and its great complexity, yet had nothing about narcos, murder, maquiladoras or strip clubs. Also, it was all about people working toward something without much government help and for the pure love of it.

When my wife started crying after reading the story of Mercedes Quinonez (pictured above) and her lifelong attempt to be an opera singer while working at a hardware store, I figured I’d done well.

The festival takes place on 5th Street and Aquiles Serdan in Colonia Libertad (easy walking distance from the border crossing), a setting that cannot be matched for pure surrealness (surreality?). The neighborhood — the first to be built outside downtown Tijuana — is a crumpled wedding cake of a place, home to the city’s first boxers, gang members and mayors, as well as its plaster-statue industry. Two hundred yards away is the brown wall separating the city from the USA.

Just an amazing place to see people singing Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and the rest. Best time is later in the afternoon. Expect 7,000+ people. On this year’s bill are Carmina Burana, arias from Carmen, Cosi Fan Tutte, Turandot and Don Carlo.

Enjoy a bit of surreal border stuff — a very original creation by some very creative people.

I’ll be there. Can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

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