Mexican opera tackles the myth of 'Camelia la Tejana,' icon of narcocorridos
In the world of narcocorridos -- Mexican folk songs that recount the exploits of drug traffickers and criminals -- few are better known that "Contrabando y traicion," one of the earliest such tunes that was popularized by the trailblazing Los Tigres del Norte in the early 1970s.
"Contraband and Betrayal" tells the story of Camelia la Tejana, a woman who smuggles drugs into the
The original author of "Contrabando y traicion" has long insisted the story is made up. Yet in 1986, in an issue of
The myth of this narcocorrido figure is the subject of "
"It was difficult to set Alarma! to music," said Gabriela Ortiz, who incorporated into her score the accordion and tuba, instruments traditionally used in Mexican norteno music. "The music does have that flavor of the north, but more like a hybrid, and always through my lens."
With the help of grants, the Ortiz siblings put together an initial production of "Unicamente la verdad" at the University of Indiana in 2008. Ruben Ortiz, known for his often hybrid-themed video, photography and installation work, wrote the opera's libretto and produced videos that are projected onstage. Much of the footage was shot in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, he said.
"I conceived this as more than an opera, but as a contemporary art piece," Ruben Ortiz said.
The revised production of "Unicamente la verdad" premiered March 11 to a warm audience reception at the Teatro Julio Castillo in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park. Nieves Navarro, an emerging Mexican soprano, anchors the opera, playing the three different "personalities" of Camelia la Tejana.
It hasn't been lost on the authors that these days in Mexico, some political forces are attempting to ban narcocorridos from the airwaves. It recently happened to Los Tigres del Norte over a song that criticized the government's campaign against the cartels.
"It's absurd," Gabriela Ortiz said. "I think what they should do is attack the reality. Narcocorridos exist because a problem exists."
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Gerardo Reynoso and Nieves Navarro in "Unicamente la verdad." Credit: Festival de Mexico