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Life on the Mesa: ‘Cuatro Corridos’ is Disturbingly Powerful

The chamber opera addressing human trafficking made a lasting impression
Susan Narucki in 'Cuatro Corridos'

By Amanda Caniglia

Just Mesa’n around…

So just what do scientists do on a Friday night in La Jolla? Last Friday they were rockin’ out to the sounds of a bitchin’ surf band. Nothing like crashing a party filled with some of the world’s most brilliant minds, but hey—I came bearing gifts. The stack of pizzas I brought was devoured by the grad students in 10 seconds flat.

The host of Friday’s shindig on the cliffs was San Diego’s very own B. Greg Mitchell, renowned research biologist at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Mitchell knows how to throw a party, jumping up with the band to whale on his harmonica. He is an absolute character with pure magnetism and was the host with the most. Surrounded by some of the smartest in the city, all donning plaid flannels mind you, the dance floor really began to fill when the band knocked out some old classics like “Mustang Sally” and Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song.”

Like food or wine, this time it was the music that pulled all the people together onto the dance floor. Scared that I wasn’t smart enough to hang with this new crowd of marine biologists, that fear melted away as the music got louder and we all started to let down our guards and sway. The band was whaling and we were jammin’. That house on the cliff transformed from a bunch of shy guys and gals to a raging mosh pit. Okay, maybe not a mosh pit. But everyone was rocking out in a major way. Clearly great tunes are another common denominator that connect all the lively characters here on the Mesa.

After Friday’s party, I shot Greg an e-mail thanking him for letting me crash and asking if he’d let me chat him up in the coming days. Our meet-up was a success and I can’t wait to reveal more about this brilliant mind that does not rest. Rock on my friends. Rock on.

Upcoming events on the Mesa (I’ll be at the fun table…)

  • Fitbit Local San Diego
    Am I behind the times? Fitbit? That’s the second time I have heard that buzzword this week. Apparently there is a neighborhood chapter, La Jolla Fitbit Local, that meets up at our treasured Torrey Pines State Reserve this Saturday. What better place to get some exercise while meeting new friends? Torrey Pines is one of my favorite spots to get a good workout. Great conversation with perhaps a special someone new? Set to our majestic cliffs? It’s a no brainer.
    January 16, 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m.

  • Helen Edison Lecture Series
    Myrlie Evers-Williams, Thomas Piketty, Bob Woodward, Alex Butterfield… Who has the Queen Bee of the Mesa, Ms. Mary Walshok curated for her top notch Helen Edison Lecture series in 2016? Next week Barry Lopez, award-winning author and environmentalist will headline in a conversation with Steven Schick, UC San Diego Professor of Music. Topic of discussion: “Music and Nature.”
    January 20, 7 p.m., UC San Diego Price Center East Ballroom

  • San Diego Magazine’s Big Ideas Party 2016
    “Let’s build a smarter city infrastructure.” “Let’s put a farm in every community.” “Let’s develop an arts district downtown.” “Let’s make our neighborhoods about community and connection, not about isolation and consumerism.” YES! I have found my people and perhaps you will too. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this year’s SD Mag Big Ideas Party 2016? It’s like the ultimate think tank of visionaries. Man, I can’t wait to hear what these people are doing and have I got a few ideas for them to chew on—like branding the coast from Carlsbad/Oceanside to Baja, bike stations on the Mesa to push connectivity, collisions, and innovation, social credit as a next step to microfinance loans, cuisine for a cause… Perhaps the biggest—working collectively to get shit done and move this city forward! This will be at the latest hot spot on the Mesa, Malarkey’s Farmer & the Seahorse. Be sure to grab your tix now and come throw your big ideas in the mix!
    January 21, 6 p.m., Farmer & the Seahorse

Just Mesa’n around some more…

The sight and sound of the chair as she dragged it across the stage made me cringe. When I headed last night to the opera Cuatro Corridos on campus at the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall, I didn’t know what to expect. The only operas I had ever seen were Aida and Madame Butterfly. And rock operas are my favorite, Jesus Christ Super Star, Elton John’s Aida, and yes, Phantom. Melodic, catchy, powerful. Music that you would want to download and listen to again and again while driving, cleaning the house, or daydreaming about a lover. Cuatro Corridos was anything but catchy and melodic, with its trio pounding and plucking away the cacophonic scores. What it was, however, was powerful. Unnerving and disturbingly powerful.

The sight of the chair scraping against the stage mixed with the chords the pianist played to mimic the movement of the protagonist got under my skin and made me want to scream. Think fingernails on a chalkboard. Times 10. But maybe that’s just the reaction Cuatro Corridos is trying to provoke? Repugnance and disgust for what happened in the lives of these innocent victims of human trafficking. I noticed I was uncomfortable the entire performance and that the music pushed me to places I didn’t want to go. But the subject matter was an uncomfortable one and the way the libretto unfolded on the screen, it was as if the music and the unveiling of the story verse by verse kept us moving forward, unwillingly at times. And then there were moments when you knew the ending but remained intrigued. Fascination with the abomination? Perhaps.

Cuatro Corridos paints four perspectives of women involved in the human trafficking that went on between the small village of Tenancingo and the U.S.–Mexico border. A young victim, a female member of the Salazar Juárez brothers’ kidnapping ring, a Chicano policewoman in San Diego, and another young woman forced to work in the “Fields of Love.”

This opera is definitely an experience that strikes a harsh chord in your gut. The music, the singing and the visuals projected on the screen all played integral roles in the telling of the stories. Unlike your usual opera, the three musicians were on stage and with a solo performer the audience was able to change their focus between the three. They could move from the pianist, guitarist, and percussionist to the soprano center stage, to the images and libretto on the screen stage left. Back and forth, letting the music and images take them on the journey. In an opera, we usually don’t focus on the musicians themselves. This chamber opera gave us the opportunity to do just that. At a symphony or concert, when on stage, a musicians performance is perceived as passionate yet graceful. The pianist last night, standing to hit high notes or pluck the strings of the piano from his baby grand, played with passion but broke from the norm. The guitarist created such odd sounds cradling his guitar while the percussionist switched neurotically from one instrument to the other. Their awkward movement added to the element of uncomfortability, mimicking the tone of the opera. At times it didn’t make sense. Yet the weaving of the three—sound, song and visuals—together had such a powerful impact. Part of me wanted to stand and run from the ugly truth. Another part of me was too intrigued to stop listening.

Is my interpretation of this production completely off? Perhaps. But art is subjective and this was my experience with the opera. I would have given anything to read the minds of the others in the audience. Were they as uncomfortable? What questions or reactions were swimming through their minds? Were they shifting in their seat, uneasy, unsettled, wanting the music to stop? It will be interesting to read about other people’s reactions. Art is meant to push and challenge us, to provoke conversation, to leave a lasting impression. Cuatro Corridos did just that.

This month is human trafficking month. Let’s not turn a blind eye. Let’s discuss.

Life on the Mesa: ‘Cuatro Corridos’ is Disturbingly Powerful

Susan Narucki in ‘Cuatro Corridos’

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