An Introduction to Cuatro Corridos from Librettist Jorge Volpi

In pre-Hispanic times, the village of Tenancingo in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala—then an independent dominion—was characterized by a strange and obscure tradition: the rearing of prostitutes to be sold or handed over to the enemy, generally a rival Nahua tribe. The girls were chosen in early childhood and brought up especially for the purpose.

The curious thing is that, many centuries later, this appalling tradition continues, except that now it is the parents themselves who send off their daughters to swell the ranks of the prostitutes. For years now, there has existed a human traffic between this small village and the U.S.-Mexico border, in which young women are sold and exploited by mafias to serve as prostitutes for illegal migrant workers in southern California.

Cuatros Corridos librettist, Jorge Volpi, participates in a panel discussion about the project at Yellow Barn Artist Residency in Putney, Vermont. Photo by Zachary Stephens

Cuatros Corridos librettist, Jorge Volpi, participates in a panel discussion about the project at Yellow Barn Artist Residency in Putney, Vermont. Photo by Zachary Stephens

In 2001 the authorities dismantled the network of the Salazar Juárez brothers—Julio, Tomás, and Luciano—who for years had been kidnapping Mexican women and forcing them to work as prostitutes in the so-called Fields of Love near the strawberry farms around San Diego. The case was brought to light in a well-known investigative report published in The New York Times Magazine.

The libretto of Cuatro Corridos (Four Corridos) is based on this two-nation border story of human trafficking, to be told by four of its central characters: a female member of the Salazar Juárez brothers’ kidnapping ring (Dalia); a Chicano policewoman in San Diego, who discovers the ring and functions in a way as the narrator of the story (Rose); and two of the victims, young women from Tlaxcala forced to work for months in the Fields of Love (Azucena and Violeta).

The Mexican women will sign in Spanish (with occasional allusions to Nahuatl), while the policewoman Rose will sing in English (with occasional Spanish expressions). As the title of the opera suggests, the libretto will be in verse, generally the lines of four feet typical of the Northern Mexican ballads known as corridos.

Jorge Volpi