A short hexagonal opera

A princess… a kingdom… a destiny.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mexican influences and other musical factors in Apoidea

When my friend Omar Rojas sent me the commission to write a short opera, the idea fired my enthusiasm. The opera was to be included in celebrations of the Bicentenary of the Mexican Independence that would be held in Brno, Czech Republic, and performed with his own short opera, "La Llorona". The guidelines were very precise: “a short work for chamber ensemble and mezzo–soprano.” I had two further conditions myself: I wanted the work to have some relation with death, as its premiere, programmed for the 2nd of November, coincided with the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead. And secondly, in some way, I wanted the performers to play a part in the story.

My good friend (in fact my roommate, at the time) Germán Panarisi came up with the idea of narrating the life of a queen who obliged to kill her sisters to gain the throne, inspired by the life of a queen bee. After reviewing the different stages of the life of a queen bee, a solution for the second condition came to mind: the wedding flight would become a wedding dance, the barons would be portrayed by the musicians, each performing a solo when his turn to dance came. And so, after a few weeks of long discussions over a beer or two, the script was practically settled.

Finally, it was time to write the music. I thought, as it was) to be performed in a country so different in terms of culture and music from mine, it would be interesting to evoke the music of Mexico.

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The tragedy of Apoidea tells the story of a queen whose rank is envied and desired by everyone when, in reality, it is a 'honeyed prison '. To a great extent, the power of this opera resides in this being a universal idea that 'resonates' in all of us.

The music, on the other hand, has a clear Latin-American character, specifically a Mexican one, resulting from a number of factors. The first elements responsible for this are the instruments accompanying the mezzosoprano: the sextet of flute, clarinet, guitar, violin, cello and percussions (shakers, guiro, claves, vibraphone). Together, they construct a number of rhythmic patterns and timbric combinations that immediately recall the sounds of these regions. You can hear the squeaky violin of the Calentan son, the strumming of the Jarocho guitar, the clave of the son, the pecking of the mariachi guitarrón on the cello, the high-pitched flute of a mambo… even the nuptial flight of the queen bee for Apoidea becomes a nuptial ‘Danzón’.

As an example, 'Introduction' features a clearly Mexican motif in the flute and clarinet, which is answered by the violin. The guitar's strumming is counterpointed by the pizzicatti of the cello, a combination from which the 'sesquialtera' comes, the mixing of 3/4 and 6/8 meters, so distinctive of this music. The vibraphone, at the same time, evokes the marimba of the state of Chiapas.

Within the score of Apoidea there are many musical curiosities. There are sections that recall Moncayo's 'Huapango', while other sections recall 'El Son de la Negra'. The melodic motif for 'The Fratricide' is a literal transcription of the piping sound produced by queen bee when she is about to fight for the power of the hive. This pipe, a two-second pulse followed by a series of quarter-second toots, will later be heard again in 'Dawn', on this second occasion having a more relaxed temperament.

Recurrent musical motifs serve as raw material for the construction of the opera. Of these, the leitmotif of the Queen (a unstable, six note chromatic line) is by far the most important. It appears most evidently during 'The Lament’, although it is also present in 'A Sea of Calm', 'The Wedding Danzon' and slightly modified, in 'Lullaby'.

I invite you then to listen to Apoidea, discover its secrets and be transported to these lands. In my own version of the old saying, "Hearing is believing".

José Miguel Delgado

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