The Reason for Cuatro Corridos
by Jon Potter
"What would your life be like to be in a place where you’re held against
your will physically, but even if you get out of it, you’re still a
slave not just because of physical restrictions, but also because you’re
also invisible in society?"
That was the question Susan Narucki
posed, as she discussed her new venture, a chamber opera about human
trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border. She added, "I can’t even put
into words how outrageous this is."
So she and some collaborators are putting it into words...and music.
Narucki, writer Jorge Volpi, four composers and three other musicians
are in Putney this week working on the music for "Cuatro Corridos," a
new chamber opera based on real events from the frontlines of the
immigration issue. They are here as part of Yellow Barn’s Artist
Residency Program, sweating the musical details in preparation for a May
8 premiere in San Diego, Calif.
Local audiences have two chances
for a sneak preview of this very relevant new work. On Thursday at 7
p.m., at the Putney Public Library, the artists will discuss their work.
Admission is free. On Saturday at 8 p.m., at Next Stage on Kimball
Hill, they will perform "Cuatro Corridos." Admission is $12, and a
discussion with the ensemble will follow the performance.
should be familiar to local audiences as a long-time Yellow Barn
faculty member. A Grammy Award-winner and champion of new work, Narucki
first encountered issues around immigration in 2008 when she was
appointed professor of music at the University of California, San Diego.
Narucki connected with a friend of a
friend who was interested in writing a libretto about this. From there,
the idea of a chamber opera grew.
"We didn’t think it would blossom into something as large as this," she said.
those initial conversations, "Cuatro Corridos (Four Ballads)" developed
into a collaboration that involved writer Jorge Volpi, who based the
libretto on true events. "Cuatro Corridos" tells the story of four women
-- two who are trafficked, one who aids in their trafficking and a
police officer bent on stopping them -- whose lives are intertwined and
changed forever. Mexican composers Hilda Paredes and Hebert Sandrin and
American composers Arlene Sierra and Lei Liang each write one episode of
this hour-long work, which is performed by guitarist Pablo Gómez,
pianist Aleck Karis, percussionist Ayano Kataoka and Narucki, who gives
voice to all four women.
Narucki said the four women’s intertwining stories lend themselves well to opera.
of the things that opera does best is it can tell us about emotionally
complex feelings and situations and not always in words," she said. "So
much of this is charged with emotion. I can’t imagine that it could be a
play because it is too charged."
Narucki is not sure what effect "Cuatro Corridos" will have, but she’s happy to do her part.
an artist not a politician, so what can I do? I don’t know if it’s
actually going to raise awareness of the problem, but it’s just what I
can do," she said. "For some time, I have been interested in performance
projects that take the music of our time and put it in the context of
She is grateful to Yellow Barn for having the
Residency Program so that the many artists involved with the project can
converge from San Diego, Mexico, London and other points and work
"It’s a wonderful chance for us to just spend time on
the musical preparation of the piece," she said. "It’s a very rare and
wonderful thing to just be able to take a week and say to the composer
‘What are you dreaming of?’ ...This is extraordinary. It just doesn’t
Jon Potter writes for The Brattleboro Reformer: