Mon, Aug 27, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Impromptu opera regales Mexico City marketgoers


Tenor Francisco Pedraza, left, smiles as tenor Dante Alcala performs at the Argentina market in Mexico City on Saturday during a performance sponsored by the Mexican National Institute of Fine Arts.

Photo: AP

The tenor breaks into song next to bunches of bananas strung high above ripe papayas.

Wearing a red market apron, he approaches a woman wrapped in a purple shawl and serenades her for 90 seconds, while clutching her hand and looking her in the eyes. Tears stream down the woman’s face.

The Saturday opera performance is part of an effort to bring the arts to everyday life in Mexico City.

A troupe of four singers surprise shoppers at one of the city’s 300 public markets, chopping beef while they belt out romanzas, courting fruit vendors with arias or, in the case of the tenor, moving a woman to tears with lines such as “eyes that cry don’t know how to lie” from the opera La Tabernera del Pueblo.

After the song, the tenor hugs the woman — a total stranger before the serenade — and kisses her on the cheek.

Shopper Ana Garcia, 65, said she never expected to hear “such beautiful voices” while browsing the fruit aisle.

The tenor is a market vendor himself: Francisco Pedraza sells shoes seven days a week near the Basilica of Guadalupe. He trained to sing opera via private lessons from the age of 16 until 30, but he said he felt excluded from the tight-knit opera circle in Mexico.

He performed when and where he could, often as a backup singer for bands that play regional Mexican music.

“The voice is an instrument that you have to exercise continuously to always maintain the same range,” he said.

One day in June, the opera crew appeared for a sound check at the market where Pedraza sells shoes.

Pedraza, who is 50, approached the group’s artistic director. He auditioned on the spot and was invited to join the troupe.

The singers are on tour as part of a pilot program that began in June and concludes in November.

Juan Carlos Diaz, coordinator of the community cultural action program for Mexico’s national fine arts institute, said he is planning more impromptu operas next year.

The idea is to awaken interest in the arts by bringing opera and dance performances to places where people gather, such as public markets and metro stations. Diaz calls them “spontaneous interruptions in social life.”

The institute is also coaching children to make puppets and other crafts at city museums.

Lydia Rendon, a mezzo-soprano in the troupe who is also a music therapist, describes opera as music that makes people vibrate both emotionally and physiologically “like a magical acoustic massage.”

Bringing song to the marketplaces, between tomatoes and avocados, injects a primal element to the performance, Rendon said, since everybody eats.

“This is where our humanity connects — the food, the smells, the flavors — and it’s even better with music,” Rendon said shortly before launching into a sultry rendition of Habanera from the opera Carmen, green apple in one hand, plastic shopping bag in the other, capped with a giant kiss on the cheek of a woman who hawks chicken feet from a cart.

Interaction with the crowd is key to the performances. It is a way for onlookers to feel like they are part of the spectacle and show that fine art is within their reach — to dispel notions that opera is only for elites.

The show wraps up with the cheerful so-called drinking song from La Traviata.

A vendor thanks the singers with free cups of papaya juice, while another who said he got goose bumps from the performance invites them to a round of carnitas tacos.

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