“By 2050, one out of every three people in America will be Hispanic.”
The new wave of trends, style, language and culture is quickly penetrating the hybridized American foundation. The 1960’s saw the rise of flower children and the hippy era blossomed; the 1970s sprouted electric rock and bell bottoms; the 1980s began the punk rock era, parachute pants and perms; and the 1990s witnessed the rise of grunge and the hip-hop revolution. But where are we now? How is our sense of identity reflected in trends and products? Trends and products that have a direct link to how companies need to market to the masses. To my knowledge, and I don’t think I’m just getting too old, we haven’t had an identity revolution spread to the masses for the better part of this millennia. In the past decade music, fashion and trends all have seemed to exist in a vacuum; either reverting to some other era or being sucked up and lost. The term “popular” is actually taking a new face as individuals focus on self-discovery via the internet, thus creating hundreds of different niche trends. Does America have a defining stylistic era today?
Here’s a prediction: Hispanics will soon be prospering faster than anyone imagined. With marketing campaigns (like Nike, Fox and ESPN) gaining more and more momentum as they aim at this specific demographic, the Hispanic culture is building a stronger identity in our country. For example, to compete with the ABC News and Univision partnership, news giant Fox Broadcasting anticipates an August 13th launch of their newest venture – MundoFox™. Just as we have in the past, we’ll lean on this identity to help our indulgent trend-seeking appetite. More than we know, we crave drama, culture and learning. With regards to opera, perhaps no other single entity exists that is as vital in producing such cultural assimilation in a more peaceful, thought-provoking and efficient manner (ie – acceptance of others and toleration of traditions). Fact: The Hispanic culture has been fighting to be heard. They’re passionate, hard-working, motivated and proud of their heritage; and there are a lot of them.
According to an article in USAToday, private and public Spanish classes have been in constant growth since the 1970s. The article, “Those who don’t speak Spanish may be left behind,” (written in 2001) reveals that the then 35.3 million Hispanics (50.5 million today) were already steadily influencing the American infrastructure. Apparently, Americans recognized the rise in Spanish influence in school, business and entertainment, as they began taking classes at a staggering pace. If you haven’t noticed, musical stylings of major recording artists in pop-culture and classical arts have begun to lean on the up-and-coming trend, but there are only a handful. Take, for example the ultra-suave stylings of latin-jazz influenced pop-star Jason Mraz or, more to the classical ear’s interest, French super-star Patricia Patibon’s newest Spanish Arias and Songs release with Deutsche Grammaphon® Records. Curiously, in the early years of the new millennium, I can think of one successful American marketing campaign looking to bridge the Spanish-American gap: the oh-so-cute, Mexican-accented Chihuahua sweetly saying, “Yo quiero Taco Bell” (I want Taco Bell). One good example, but it seems to me very little has been done to change the landscape of American artistic style in the past ten years. Well, until recently that is.
I’ve been following Rick Bayless, an award-winning chef-restaurateur and cookbook writer, in his television culinary series Mexico: One Plate at a Time. It has been said that no other person has done more to “introduce Americans to authentic Mexican cuisine and to change the image of Mexican food in America.” Bayless has spent the majority of his life studying and living the Mexican tradition. It is this type of research and exposure that Americans are finally teaching and/or absorbing because, quite frankly, it’s the next best undiscovered cultural art that has the potential to satisfy the style-seeking American palate. Due to our multi-diversity and hybridized culture, we crave new trends like hip-hop and perms to help excite our tastes. With new cultural paradigms come exciting innovation, art and technology. It’s the American way.
How is opera preparing for America’s cultural identity revolution? Well, we’re seeing a rise in Hispanic composers like Jorge Martin and Jorge Sosa who are instrumental in introducing audiences to Cuban and Mexican culture, respectively, to the opera world. Also, San Diego Opera is producing a West Coast Premiere of the first mariachi opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon). Featuring the famous Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, with music by José “Pepe” Martínez and libretto by Leonard Foglia, this semi-staged bilingual opera follows three generations of a single family’s search for identity while divided by cultures and countries. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna received its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera and played to sold-out houses in Paris. Further, the untimely death of Mexican composer Daniel Catan last year has drawn considerable attention to his operas and song-cycles in the past several months. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a festival, similar to that of both Spoleto Festivals, arise completely in honor of his work. Who might do it? Check out the recently created NYC based company Opera Hispanica. Headed by Daniel Frost Hernandez, this group is dedicated to preserving Hispanic tradition within the American background. In fact, they’ve just hired Juilliard School’s Jorge Parodi as their new artistic director. Or perhaps Philadelphia’s new Hispanic Opera Initiative under the wing of Center City Opera Theatre will be the first to create festival-stimulated international headlines. No other American city craves a headline-grabbing summer festival like Philly.
The opera community – company, singer, composer, etc – in the United States is slowly catching on to Hispanic growth. While, nationally, the current opera audience is made up of 7% Latinos, recent projections from the Pew Research Center indicate that the opera industry will be remiss if it does not attract a stronger Hispanic audience base: “Hispanics will make up 29% of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14% in 2005.” The lack of a defining stylistic era today precludes the stylistic era of tomorrow. Our prediction: Opera audiences are no longer built on a steady diet of grand opera; they are built on assimilating cultures and class (something Mozart, Puccini, and Verdi did very well in their time). Why not reach out to Latinos, a group that LA Times critic, Mark Swed referred to as, “a culture not widely enough disseminated to the rest of the world.”