How Italian opera influenced Mexican ranchera


Mexican tenor Javier Camarena’s recital at the Los Angeles Opera.

Lawrence Oak. Huh?

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Lawrence Oak. Huh?


Mexican tenor Javier Camarena’s recital at the Los Angeles Opera.

Lawrence Oak. Huh?

It’s a full house at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, where Mexican tenor Javier Camarena performs a medley of Italian and French arias, Spanish and Mexican songs for songs. LA Opera.

During the 19th century, Italian opera was much talked about in Mexico. Italian companies traveled there to stage operas by Donizetti and Bellini in addition to the latest works by various composers. The influence of Italian opera helped create the ranchera style of Mexico.

“I imagine the Italians coming to Mexico and saying yes, listen to me sing O Sole Míosays the Mexican tenor Javier Camarena. “And I can think of Mexicans, composers saying, ‘Okay, so let’s sing our music like that.’

Camarena says the connection between 2 seemingly completely different song types is clever. Mexican composers in the first half of the 20th century wrote songs for educated singers.

Recently, on one of my many trips to Mexico City, I went to El Tenampa bar in Plaza Garibaldi, a kind of temple of Mexican style music. The walls are lined with murals of famous ranchera singers Pedro Infante, José Alfredo Jimenez, Chavela Vargas and Juan Gabriel.

Singer Alvaro Hurtado spins with mariachi. During a break, I ask him about the connection between Mexican rancheras and Italian opera. Hurtado says he doesn’t know much about opera, but Luciano Pavarotti is his favorite singer. “If Pavarotti had sung Mexican rancheras, he would have been very successful Jorge Negrete,” He says.


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Negrete studied bel canto and began his profession not singing rancheras, though operatic compositions. Negrete’s story should not be uncommon. Ethnomusician Dan Sheehy factors indicate that in the early 1800s opera companies and their star singers traveled from Italy to perform across the country.

“It was like a parade, people were greeting them in the streets of Mexico City,” he says. “The word spread, and people came out in groups and watched the carrozas, floats or carriages that carried the opera singers and all the trappings, all the retinues of the day, they watched the Italian arrive. an opera singer, be it soprano, baritone or something else.”

At the time, Italian opera was an extra mass in Mexico. People from all walks of life went to the discoveries. Eventually, opera became an expensive form of entertainment available only to the elite.

In the nineteen thirties, a whole new style of music began to spread with radio and reporting companies spreading it across the country and crossing the Mexican border. While the canción ranchera was rising as a genre of Mexican style tunes, a much bigger platform was emerging for mariachi music and canción ranchera singers: the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.

Sheehy says many of the singers featured in the films, who represented and idealized the music of the Mexican nation on the big screen, were from the city. Many of them studied Italian opera singing. “And they became actors. And so you see almost all the biographies of all the great “musical ranchera” singers and composers to some extent, and actors, if you list what profession they had: songwriter, singer, actor. It went hand in hand with the Mexican film industry.”

Aida Cuevas has been affectionately called the “Queen of Mariachi.”

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John Parra/Getty Images

Aida Cuevas considered the finale of the good ranchera singers of his era. Cuevas had previously worked with an opera singer for several years, who told him: “I don’t understand how “rancheras” singers can sing. I don’t know how you don’t appear hoarse, without a voice. What you are doing is a superhuman effort.”

Camarena says that Mexican singers have one thing. “And that’s what makes it hard to sing Mexican music and rancheras, because they need the Mexican soul.”

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