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Opera “Cuatro Corridos” Addresses Human Trafficking

Credit: Jim Carmody

Above: "Cuatro Corridos" a chamber opera premiers Wednesday, May 8, at the Conrad Prebys Music Center's Experimental Theater at UC San Diego.


Susan Narucki, UC San Diego Soprano, Project Leader

Hilda Paredes, Composer


Operas are known for telling dramatic, risky and often 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 opera are songs about four women: Dalia, Rose, Azucena and Violeta. They are trapped in and around the San Diego-Tijuana border region, forced into lives of slavery and prostitution.

"This project brings together music I love, an art form I love and an issue I believe is critical to our time," said Grammy Award winning soprano Susan Narucki who was instrumental in commissioning the production.

The idea came from a conversation about the U.S-Mexico border between Narucki, who also teaches music at UC San Diego and one of her students, Pablo Gomez, a guitarist in the production.

"We started talking about human trafficking which was something I had no knowledge of and we talked about bringing together composers and librettists to try to highlight this story to bring it to fruition in an art project, " Narucki said.

The composers behind the female characters' voices are Arlene Sierra, Lei Liang, Hebert Vázquez and Hilda Paredes. They each wrote the music for one of the female characters.

"I wanted to give voice precisely to those dead women who have been killed, not only in this particular story, but in the border with Mexico in Ciudad Juarez in particular, women who have not been found or whose perpetrators have not been taken to justice," said Paredes.

The distinguished Mexican composer said she also wanted to address a social phenomenon she calls self-colonialism.

"The concept is imbedded in the minds of many Mexican and Latin Americans who believe life is better across the border or anywhere else for that matter than in their own country."

And that is often not the case, as Mexican author Jorge Volpi, who's collaborating with Naruki on the production, points out.

“Young women are sold and exploited by mafias to serve as prostitutes for illegal migrant workers in Southern California. 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” near the strawberry farms around San Diego.”

Naruki believes until now something had been missing in her career and this project reflects her interest in bringing people together to create a unique art form that addresses a major social issue.

"We're hoping to draw attention to a human rights issue and also to a beautiful artistic project that's inviting people into the sound world they may not be familiar with," she said.

"Cuatro Corridos" will be performed at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the Conrad Prebys Music Center's Experimental Theater at UC San Diego.

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