Sounds of Cultura (SOC): Opera Joven

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Opera Joven is a group of young operatic singers that have gained a growing following across Mexico by fusing classical music selections and traditional “Musica Mexicana” that offers audiences a unique performance with cross-cultural and multigenerational appeal. James Garcia, producing artistic director for New Carpa Theater Company talks about Opera Joven.


Jose Cardenas: Opera Joven is a group of young singers that has gained a growing following across Mexico by fusing classical music selections and traditional música mexicana, Mexican music, that gives audiences a unique performance with multigenerational and cross-cultural appeal. We'll talk about Opera Joven in a moment, but first, here's a look at one of their performances.Here with me now to talk about Opera Joven is James Garcia producing artistic director. That was a beautiful segment we had there. She's one of the people who came up to perform?

James Garcia:She's one of the three singers, four singers who have come from Mexico, along with the pianist, all classically trained, all graduates of the conservatory in Mexico and classically trained in opera, who came to do several performances here. They've done a performance at the Orpheum theater, we visited a lot of schools, Latino schools, because a lot the music they do is of Mexican origin.

Jose Cardenas:Before we get to the details and how their trip was arranged, give us a history of the group because they've been around for a while.

James Garcia: They've been around for a few years. They're all relatively young. They're all basically millennials and that's why they call themselves Opera Joven and their founder who isn't on the strip, Moises Martinez decided they wanted to take these opera singers and open up the audience for the music. So what he's done is he's fused classic opera music, stuff from Rigoletto and other standards but he's also combined it with more contemporary and more recent works. And they've been touring Mexico for about three or four years.

Jose Cardenas: Based principally in Mexico city.

James Garcia: That's where they all met each other in Mexico city and there's a group of about -- it floats a little bit, a group of seven or eight singers altogether and depending on availability and when someone is available, they get together and do concerts. One of their singers, for example, is in New York right now touring.

Jose Cardenas: Tell us how they got here to Arizona.

James Garcia: It's their first tour of the United States, their first visit, musically, a couple of them have visited the states before but they came here because of YouTube, because of the Internet. There's a local businessman, Guillermo Lopez who makes things, a some of small companies in which he does manufacturing but he's also an opera aficionado. He fell in love with what they were doing and literally just contacted them through the Internet and said how would you guys like to come to phoenix and get exposed to the United States. They're very interested in visiting the U.S. market and coming to U.S. cities so we hope this will be the first of a number of visits.

Jose Cardenas: And you've been a big part of this trip as well in terms of arranging performances?

James Garcia: My role has been primarily as someone who's engaged in the arts here and in performance and I know theater venues and because I produce my own theater, I do trucks work and so they reach out to me as someone who's involved in the arts community and connected to the Latino arts community to see about venues and basically, I took the project on and have been handling them as they've been in town and getting them around town and arranging different venues. They just did the Phoenix art museum, for instance, on first Friday which was a thrill for us, for the singers and really for the audiences there.

Jose Cardenas: We've been talking about them, they've got a few pictures that we want to put on the screens to identify them. A group shot, and then some individuals. These are three of the singers and we've got some individual pictures and when they come up, if you'll just tell us a little bit about them who they are.

James Garcia:These photographs, by the way, were shot on Saturday at an extraordinary event done downtown. He's a tenor. He's originally from Tijuana but studied in Mexico city.

Jose Cardenas: We've got a couple more.

James Garcia: This is Antonio, he originates -- a former architect, decided he wanted to pursue music. He's originally from a border state and this is Diana originally from Mexico City, the soprano in this group.

Jose Cardenas: Is she the one we saw singing at the beginning of the show?

James Garcia: Yes.

Jose Cardenas:They're all three very talented. There's a fourth person who accompanied them.

James Garcia:There is and I believe she'll be performing on Friday night at the St. Mary's basilica.

Jose Cardenas: What kind of a reaction have they gotten from the audiences here in Mexico?

James Garcia: Well, I think part of it is that one of the goals of Guillermo, the gentleman who brought them, is to expose them to audiences that aren't used to necessarily seeing opera and we know opera from traditional audiences who tend not to be heavily Latino in the states and although that's changing under the new director for the Arizona opera, who's doing a lot of outreach to more diverse communities. But we were taking them to schools like carl Hayden high school and central high which are predominantly Latino populations and students and students don't generally see it. That's been part of the goal is really to expose new audiences to this. And then also, frankly, Phoenix art museum, for instance, this is an audience that isn't used to necessarily seeing Mexican opera singers who are singing in Spanish and singing not just opera music but also classic Mexican music that was made popular during the golden age of Mexican cinema.

Jose Cardenas:Let's talk about the kids in the high schools. How did they react?

James Garcia: I was really pleased with how they reacted. You never know with kids, they come into a room, 800 of them and they're a little bit rowdy and they've got a few minutes away from regular classes and someone tells them opera singers are going to be here and they didn't know what to expect and I think they were just sort of breath taken because of the caliber of the voices. It's one thing to see a good musician, it's another to see someone who has studied for eight years on one instrument and has probably been studying since they were 10 or 12 years old and the caliber of them and their instruments, these singers' instruments being their voices, is just astounding.

Jose Cardenas:Any kind of interaction before or after the show with them?

James Garcia:They did. The singers visited a couple of the choir classes, did kind of a master workshop. The pianist visited with piano students and did a bit of a master workshop with them, just talking to them about the craft, and I think in some ways the thing they probably get the most from it is hearing the singers talk about why they picked this art and why they dedicated so many years of their life to it and what motivated them to do it, and I think that's the thing that students have to hear because it takes that kind of motivation and years and years of study.

Jose Cardenas:Now, one last performance coming up?

James Garcia:Last performance, which is a very unique thing. We have partnered with the Catholic diocese, St. Mary's basilica, there's going to be a mass at 8:00 because it is the eve of the annual celebration of the virgin of Guadalupe, the annual holiday.

Jose Cardenas:The patron of Mexico.

James Garcia:Patron saint of Latin America. And every year in Mexico at the basilica there, there are performers from all over the country and all over Latin America who come and serenade the Lady of Guadalupe, starting at 9:00 p.m. at St. Mary's basilica. It's open to the general public, it's a free event and we expect to have maybe half a dozen different performers in addition to the opera singers.

Jose Cardenas: These will be locals joining with them?

James Garcia:Some locals, people like Olivia Calderon and Angela Gonzalez who's a journalist who wings arias and sings beautifully. So there's different folks.

Jose Cardenas: Sounds great, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it.

James Garcia: Thank you so much.

Jose Cardenas: And that's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and your Arizona PBS station, thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Announcer: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

James Garcia: , Producing Artistic Director for New Carpa Theater Company

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