Connection

As a New Year begins, I'm taking a moment to look back.  Our opera project , Cuatro Corridos, had quite a year -  and yes, the choice of modifier is deliberate.   I know how fortunate I am to be able to work alongside Aleck, Pablo, Ayano, - three virtuoso musicians, Jason - our peerless technical director and Ruby, who keeps everything on track. 

We are so lucky to be able to present the work of four exceptional composers, Hebert, Arlene, Lei and Hilda, and and the extraordinary libretto of Jorge Volpi, who has done so much to help Cuatro Corridos have a robust life.  I am grateful for each and every one. 

In February, Cuatro Corridos was the subject of a feature article in Opera Magazine, China's only journal dedicated to the subject of Western Opera.  The comprehensive article, entitled On the American chamber opera Cuatro Corridos: Tragedy and the underclass, was written by Lei Liang's parents, two eminent Chinese musicologists who attended our Los Angeles performance in August of 2014.

During the same month, we also learned that we had been awarded a grant from the Alice M. Ditson Fund to support a commercial recording of Cuatro Corridos on Bridge Records. Our recording sessions took place in March, led by our friend Adam Abeshouse, one of the very best in the business.  The recording will be released later this year and we look forward to sharing it with our friends near and far. 

Thanks to the efforts of Jorge and Pablo, Cuatro Corridos had a remarkable year of performances in Mexico.  Our three Mexico City performances at CENART in May were the focus of quite a bit of media attention, both in print journalism and in broadcast news.  Our first performance was live-streamed by the team at CENART and the final performance was captured for broadcast on Canal 22, Mexico's cultural channel during September. 

The Mexico City performances coincided with the debut of the feature length film "The Chosen Ones" at the Cannes Film Festival, whose screenplay was based on Jorge's libretto for Cuatro Corridos; the film earned critical acclaim as one of powerful dramatic impact.  

Our Mexico City performances also brought Cuatro Corridos to the attention of Siglo Nuevo Magazine; the opera was the subject of a feature article in the magazine's July 2015 issue, which addressed complexities of racial discrimination in Mexico. 

Thanks to the efforts of Ayano Kataoka and UMass Amherst, and with support by the National Endowment for the Arts, Cuatro Corridos had its first East Coast performance in October.  Our performance was preceded by a panel discussion led by UMass Assistant Professor Lauren McCarthy, on the Realities of Human Trafficking.  People sometimes think that that human trafficking is a border issue; but unfortunately it can also be found wherever migrant labor is a significant part of the agricultural workforce.

 As I listened to the discussion, I was aware, yet again, of the complex web of circumstances that enables human trafficking to exist.  And I was also heartened to hear about the efforts that are being made, through means of legal aid, labor rights advocacy, academic research and student activism all focused on addressing the issue. 


At the end of November, we traveled to Guadalajara. Cuatro Corridos was one of six special performing arts events presented by the 2015 FIL/Guadalajara International Book Fair.  The book fair was housed in a convention center that was vast and buzzing. Thousands upon thousands of people of all ages,all gathered around a celebration of words and ideas.  Jorge's full-length novel based on the libretto of Cuatro Corridos was one of the works presented at the fair and we had many opportunities to talk about the opera and the conversations that it has sparked within the public sphere.  When the lights came up for the beginning of our performance at the Teatro Diana, I saw over one thousand people in the audience.   I never could have imagined that.

About two hundred people stayed afterward for a talkback session with Jorge, Pablo and I - something that I understand is extremely rare occurrence in Mexico.   The topics ranged from questions and comments about the production and presentation of the opera, to the simple "We have heard your opera about human trafficking.  Now what?  Do you propose more?"  There was a silence may have been uncomfortable for others, but not to me. 

I spoke about the fact that human trafficking is not a Mexican problem.  It's not an American problem.  It's a global problem.  The art we present cannot solve the problem.  But what it can do, and what it does do, is bring us into the same room, to recognize our shared humanity and common values and to have a discussion.  It may seem like that is not very much.  But seeing how much more visible the issue of human trafficking has become since 2011, the year we first began discussing the project, I can tell you it is a lot.  One conversation leads to another and awareness begins to spread. 

The month of January has been designated as the month of Human Trafficking Awareness.   So I am particularly grateful to be able to perform Cuatro Corridos next week at UC San Diego, and to continue the conversation this year.

Pope Francis' New Year's Day address was entitled "Overcome indifference and win peace".  He asks all of us to shake off indifference to our neighbors and to recognize that we are all connected.  We are.  And through that connection, we are capable of bringing human trafficking to an end.