A chamber opera in four scenes (2013) Hebert VÁSQUEZ (b. 1963)
Azucena [13:16] Arlene SIERRA (b. 1970)
Dalia [11:13] Lei LANG (b. 1972)
Rose [10:23] Hilda PAREDES (b. 1957)
La tierra de miel (Violeta) [18:32]
Susan Narucki (soprano/artistic director)
Pablo Gómez (guitar)
Aleck Karis (piano)
Ayano Kataoka (percussion)
rec. 29-32 March 2015, Conrad Prebys Music Center, University of California at San Diego. BRIDGE 9473 [53:24]
This unusual project first came about when librettist Jorge Volpi heard the story of the inhabitants of Tenancingo in Mexico who, as legend would have it, “have devoted themselves - as other villagers to ceramics or pottery - to a singular profession: prostitution”. The idea first initiated a screenplay, the themes of exploitation and oppression seemingly ideal for the medium of film. In the end, four voices were drawn upon from the list of leading characters, and the commission for the music was divided between two Mexican and two American composers.
The complex interactions between different composers and the various character voices reflect the complexities and tensions focussed on the Mexican/US border. Each act is “a vivid psychological and musical portrait” of the four women in the opera. ‘Azucena’ uses Mexican folk music to cast the shadow of an innocent past life over a text that holds nothing back when it comes to the ill-use to which these women are put. ‘Dalia’ is a trafficker, the music expressing “the terrified heartbeat of a woman trapped by her own life”, the irony of the girls being “rescued” the origin and cause of Dalia’s certainty that she will end up in Hell.
With ‘Rose’ we move from Spanish to English, the central figure now a police officer giving a press statement. “...the jagged vocal lines and use of sprechstimme reflect the character's indignation and anger”. The freed girls “will go back to their homes now”, but the music retains its discomforting edge, making no promise of security or warmth. ‘Violeta’ concerns the unheard voice of the murdered Iris as told through her friend. An atmosphere of tragic mystery is suffused with violence and a tensile, tactile sense of urgent terror in the music, the final lines delivered in a state of exhaustion and hopelessness: “They sold me for three pesos, they tore me from my mother. I wither from sadness, a flower without dew”.
This is a virtuoso production in every sense of the word. Susan Narucki is tremendous as the soloist, expressing the extremes of each score without resorting to tricks and gimmicks. Superbly recorded, the combination of guitar, piano and percussion has a staggering variety of range and colour and is perfect for the text. This is by no means ‘easy’ music, but as a contemporary drama on relevant issues it is remarkably effective - at times touching on the desiccated dreamlike realms of something by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez, but always pressing home the unbearable suffering and injustice meted out by men against women in a no-holds-barred narrative which carries continuity through sheer veracity. The through-line is of course Jorge Volpi's forceful libretto, but stylistic contrast between the composers adds rather than takes away from the impact of the whole and the relationships between the scenes.