Susan Narucki, UC San Diego Soprano, Project Leader
Hilda Paredes, Composer
Related Story: Opera "Cuatro Corridos" Addresses Human Trafficking
CAVANAUGH: Operas are known for telling dramatic, risky, and tragic stories of lives twisted by fate. A new chamber opera at UC San Diego is no exception except for the fact that the stories told in Cuatro Corridos are largely true. The four ballads in this world premiere are songs about 4 women trapped in and around the San Diego/Tijuana border region forced into lives of slavery and prostitution. It highlights the tragedy of human trafficking taking place in our own backyard. My guests, Grammy award winning soprano, Susan Narucki. She reforms the piece and was instrumental in commissioning Cuatro Corridos. Hilda Paredes is one of Mexico's distinguished composers. She's written music for one of the Corridos.
PAREDES: Pleasure to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Where did the idea for this production come from?
NARUCKI: It came from a conversation that I had with Pablo Gomez, who is the guitarist in the production. He's a wonderful professional guitarist who also happens to be a student of ours at UC San Diego. And we were talking about the border and the complications that that region has for all of our lives. We started talking about human trafficking, which was something that I heretofore had no knowledge of. We thought about the idea of bringing together composers and librettists to headlight this story.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this is called a chamber opera. What is that?
NARUCKI: Well, it's a little bit different than a grand opera in that it has fewer instruments. And in this instance, there is no conductor. So it's just myself singing, a pianist, percussionist, and guitarist. It's designed for small forces, and we've decided to make this for the small as possible forces so that it could be intimate, have a great impact, and also be portable and travel to other venues as well.
CAVANAUGH: Now, as I understand it, this opera tells 4stories of four different women. Where did you hear these stories? How did you decide to turn these stories into songs?
NARUCKI: Great question. Pablo introduced me to Jorge Volpi, a very distinguished Mexican novelist who also was interested in this subject and also bringing this information to light. He had read about an instance of human trafficking that took place in the San Diego air. In 2001. He read a detailed article in the New York Times that was an exposay that was an instance of trafficking and decided he would conduct a narrative in the form of Corridos and tell the story of four women who were part of the story.
CAVANAUGH: We're talking about women who are trapped, tricked, physically taken into lives of prostitution in San Diego's love fields? Is that it?
NARUCKI: That's correct. Women are trafficked from different small communities in Mexico. We talk about one in particular. Traffickers bring them north over the border and promise them a beautiful life. What ends up happening for a lot of these women, they are brought to the strawberry fields in the North County of San Diego, and they are made to work as prostitutes.
CAVANAUGH: Let's hear of some music from Cuatro Corridos. In is from the story of Rose.
NARUCKI: Rose is the third character in our piece. The music was written by Lei Liang, a colleague of mine. And Rose is a Mexican/American police woman. I imagine her to be about 35 years old. In the story, we imagine that she has been instrumental in finding and liberating these women. In the scene, she's giving a statement to the press. She's telling us the details of the arrest, but she's also asking a question: What will happen to these girls? Where will they go? What will their lives be?
(Audio Recording Played)
CAVANAUGH: Hilda, you compose music for the land of honey. What is that story about?
PAREDES: The land of honey is the story that the fourth character, called Violetta is telling about her friend, Iris, who was killed. It is actually the for of one woman, living woman, and at the end we hear the voice of the dead woman. And it is a story -- I wanted to give voice precisely to those dead women that have been killed, many of them, not only in this particular story, but many in the border with Mexico, Juarez in particular. And women that -- a lot of them have never been found. Most of them, the perpetrators have not been taken to justice. And all were completely forgotten. So this was my interest in this piece. So on the one hand, we hear Violetta telling the story about how they were raped and taken very young, often being sent by the father. And telling them to go to the land of honey.
CAVANAUGH: Ah, I see.
PAREDES: And this is a concept that is very much embedded in Mexican people by thinking that life is better across the border or anywhere else except in Mexico.
CAVANAUGH: Let's hear an excerpt from the land of honey.
(Audio Recording Played)
CAVANAUGH: I want to hear more about the concept of the land of honey, and there's a term, self-colonialism. I've never heard that before.
PAREDES: I made up that term to represent some phenomenon, social phenomenon that I find not just in Mexico, but in lots of countries, Latin American countries, always thinking that life will be better, that any cultural model brought from abroad is better than what you are and is a way of negating your own reality. And this is why people try to find -- to make life somewhere else.
CAVANAUGH: I understand.
PAREDES: It's like say that the grass is greener on the other side.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. And this tragic story, of course, that is turned on its head is that she finds that there's something just terrible on the other side of that border
PAREDES: Yes, and the abuse and the violent aggression that these women are subjected to is something I try to bring in parts of the narrative in the voices, in between the members of the ensemble to represent how the destruction inside after this experience of rape or murder leaves you unable to articulate.
CAVANAUGH: Susan, throughout your story, you've been drawn to performing contemporary opera. That in itself is beyond the comfort zone of a lot of opera fans. How does Cuatro Corridos fit into the kind of music that you love? What does this bring to it?
NARUCKI: Well, I've been interested in the music of our time for my entire career and had the great good fortunate to work with wonderful composers, bringing their music to life. But there's been something missing for me. And that is that the music of our time tends to live at the periphery of culture. For me, a project such as this reflects my interest in bringing together music that I love, an art form that I love, and speaking to an issue that's critical to our time. We've tried to construct are the piece so that the duration is fairly short. But we're hoping to draw attention to a human rights issue and also to a beautiful artistic project that's inviting people into this sound world that they might not be familiar with.
CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Susan, besides being a performer, you are also a music professor.
NARUCKI: Yes, that's correct.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: Would you say your students are excited about the future of opera?
NARUCKI: Oh, I think they're very excited about it. We've done -- this is the fifth year that weave doing chamber opera projects at UCSD. This is my own project, of course, but with my group, Calisti, we've done a world premiere opera recently, last year we presented Kaiser of Atlantis. I think they're very excited about it. In them I see people who are very open-minded, very interested in exploring new forms, they have a lot of energy. I think for them the future is very bright.
CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, with this particular project, I know it has its world premiere here in San Diego. Do you have any plans to mount another production somewhere else?
NARUCKI: Yes, actually we will be taking it to the nasher sculpture from in Dallas in October of 2014. And we have inquiries nationally and internationally about taking the project farther. And I'd also like to say that part of the mission of the project is to spread awareness in other ways. So on May9th, the day after the premiere, we have two talks that are free and open to the public. At 11:00AM, we have all four composers who answer travelled far and wide to come and speak about the project, as well as Jorge Volpi, the librettist. We have a reception open to the public. And then at 2:00PM, we have experts on human trafficking come the community who are coming to speak. All coming together to talk about this problem in our community.
CAVANAUGH: So it's going to be a complete cultural and learning experience for people.
NARUCKI: That's what we're trying to do, yes.
CAVANAUGH: Cuatro Corridos will be performed tonight at the UC San Diego experimental theatre. Thank you both very much.
NARUCKI: Thank you, Maureen.
PAREDES: Thank you for having me.