Twenty-five musicians from the Tucson-based Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra returned recently from Oaxaca, Mexico, where they performed in the Oaxaca Opera Festival for the third consecutive year.
The full orchestra will perform highlights of the festival on Sept. 15 in a special Mexican Independence Day concert featuring vocalists singing selected arias, plus Mariachi Sol Azteca. Sponsored by the Mexican Consulate in Tucson and the Instituto Cultural Mexicano de Tucson, the concert is free at 7 p.m. at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W Congress.
The SASO musicians, together with several players from Oaxaca and one from Brazil, made up the Festival Orchestra. They were joined by about 100 singers for four concert performances.
SASO Music Director Linus Lerner is artistic director of the festival and co-founder with Maribel Sanchez of Oaxaca, general director. An internationally known vocal coach, Lerner auditioned and coached the singers who came from many parts of Mexico, plus Brazil and Italy. They were attracted by the opportunity of expert training and to perform opera with a live orchestra in the historic Teatro Macedonia Alcala, which opened in 1909. Lerner said. “The Teatro Alcala resembles a mix of Carnegie Hall of New York and Teatro La Scala of Milan.”
Oaxaca has been officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an important cultural center in Mexico. The city is about 300 miles southeast of Mexico City.
This year the festival included two fully staged opera performances – Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro).
All four programs were presented at no charge, thanks to generous contributions from Tucson supporters Dorothy Vanek, Irving Olson and Tim Secomb, as well as contributors in Oaxaca. The SASO musicians donated their services and the singers paid a small fee to participate.
Secomb is principal viola and personnel manager of SASO and has played in all three Oaxaca festivals. He said, “Before every event, crowds of concertgoers stretched down the street from the theatre. The performances were given to capacity crowds and some people had to be turned away. Many had never experienced a classical opera performance before. The audiences were enthusiastically receptive.”
Speaking to the audiences, Lerner proposed that Oaxaca should also become a center for opera in Mexico, a suggestion that clearly pleased the concertgoers.
Secomb said, “I think that this festival has great potential. There are many wonderful young singers in Mexico. We were amazed by the strength and richness of their voices. And Lerner is a natural opera conductor, with his deep understanding of the technique and art of singing, as well as orchestral conducting. With the foundation we’ve laid, and the donors and audiences we’ve attracted, this festival really does have a great future.”