For more than 15 years now, I’ve followed the way Tijuana has developed an opera scene that is one of the artistic jewels of Mexico.
One of the scene’s great products, Guadalupe Paz, a mezzosoprano, performs in Tijuana at the CECUT theater, not far from the border, on May 16.
The emergence of opera in Tijuana was a story I included in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.
It’s a bizarre tale involving the importing of an entire Russian orchestra after the end of the Cold War, and fans who acted like guerrilla warriors, fighting in DIY style to establish a beachhead for their music amid the techno, disco and ranchero.
It also involves Mercedes Quinonez, who had tried all her life to find classical voice instruction in Tijuana, only to find it too late, when she was 51. A poignant tale that I’ll never forget. (See photo below.)
Today, opera and classical music are part of the town. Growing from it all, there are today youth orchestras in some of the toughest barrios in Tijuana. (Listen to a radio story I did for LA’s radio station KCRW.)
Opera in Tijuana struck me as completely out of place with the city’s fame and reputation as a town of sin and late-night drunkenness.
But I took opera as a sign of how the town was evolving, with a middle class, an optimism, and an energy — the three of which were hard to find in combination in cities in other parts of Mexico.
That’s why I’ve spent so much time paying attention to it.
Many years ago I also did a report for NPR with my Mexico City colleague Franc Contreras about the phenomenon in Tijuana, which you can listen to here.
There’s also an annual Opera Street Festival in July that is a fantastic event, taking place 150 yards from the border wall, in Colonia Libertad, a place known more for its immigrant smugglers and the artisans who make Tijuana’s plaster Mickey Mouse statues.