University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Chadwick: The Padrone; Cuatro Corridos

09/02/2018 1:00 pm
09/02/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This year for the Sunday of the Labor Day holiday weekend I offer you two very different lyric theaterworks which both deal with the touchy subject of human trafficking and illicit labor.

First comes the work of New England's own composer and music educator George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931). He was the longtime director of the New England Conservatory in Boston. Chadwick composed several operas, one of which The Padrone (1912) was never performed in his lifetime. (Chadwick offered it to the Met but it was turned down.) The Padrone did not receive its world premiere concert performance until 1995 at the vintage opera house in Thomaston, Connecticut.

Chadwick conceived it as a realistic verismo-style lyric theaterpiece under the influence of Puccini. In the early twentieth century the padrone (Italian for "the boss") was a species of unscrupulous employer who shipped poor Italian laborers to the United States, then kept the immigrants in a state of virtual slavery to him. When love enters the padrone's cold heart for a young female immigrant a romantic tragedy ensues.

The Padrone was given only one concert performance at the Thomaston Opera House on September 29, 1995. The Waterbury Symphony took part in the musical proceedings, along with CONCORA (the Connecticut Choral Artists singing association), and five vocal soloists. The Hartford Courant's classical music critic Steve Metcalf was in the audience that night in Thomaston. He reviewed the performance favorably. The world premiere recording of Chadwick's The Padrone is available as a download from the House of Opera website.

Another form of human of human trafficking is sex trafficking for purposes of prostitution. From 1912 we jump forward into the twenty first century for Cuatro Corridos (2013), a chamber opera in four scenes, each scene composed by one of four different contemporary composers: Hebert Vasquez (b. 1963), Arlene Sierra (b. 1970), Lei Liang (b. 1972) and Hilda Paredes (b. 1957).

We're given to understand that there's a village in Mexico that by tradition has specialized in the sex business. The village girls are recruited into virtual sexual slavery. Their brothers become pimps. The girls are transported illegally across the US border at Tijuana to engage in the lucrative stateside trade. Mexican author Jorge Volpi wrote a screenplay about this deplorable situation. He tells a story of sexploitation by other male migrant workers and corrupt farm bosses. The screenplay was adapted into a libretto consisting of four sung monologues by four different female characters. One singer portrays all four roles.

Cuatro Corridos premiered in the border city of San Diego, California. In 2015 soprano Susan Narucki recorded the four scenes in both Spanish and English text at the Prebys Music Center at UCal San Diego. She originally commissioned the chamber opera. Narucki is accompanied by a trio of instrumentalists playing guitar, piano and percussion. The American Bridge label released Cuatro Corridos on a single compact disc in 2016.