Page last updated at 02:34 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Drugs opera opens in Mexico City

By Julian Miglierini
BBC News, Mexico City

Drugs related arrest in Guadalajara, Mexico 11.01.10
Mexico has stepped up the war against its drugs cartels

The first Mexican opera to deal directly with the country's drugs conflict has staged its premiere in Mexico City.

The opera, Only the Truth, is based on a popular Mexican song of the 1970s which tells the story of a woman who smuggles marijuana into the US.

Her lover betrays her and in an act of crazy revenge, she murders him.

Violence connected to Mexico's drugs trade has killed more 15,000 people in the past three years.

Since the song was first made popular, the central character of Camelia la Tejana seems to have become a mix of fact and fiction.

Many women have claimed to be the song's inspiration.

Gabriela Ortiz, one of the opera's authors, believes this is because her role goes beyond the expected, submissive part women often have in such tales.

"This is exactly the opposite," she said.

"This is a very strong woman who finally kills her lover and disappears with the money. She became like a hero."

'Narco corrido'

But it is in her role as a drugs trafficker that Camelia's story has more resonance for today's Mexico, as Jose Arean, the opera's musical director explained.

"Out of the last 20 years, I would say, this is the one opera that is telling us a story that is not only on everyone's mind, but also in the headlines. It is how Mexico is perceived outside as well," he said.

The song on which the opera is based is a corrido, a type of Mexican ballad initially created to tell epic stories of heroes from the Mexican revolution a century ago.

In recent years, a whole sub-genre known as "narco corridos" has developed that narrates the adventures of the drugs barons.

Some have called for the narco corridos to be banned, but artists defend their freedom of expression.

The drugs issue seems to have permeated every aspect of Mexico's culture - even that elusive, hard to reach genre that is opera.

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