Opera Star’s Pop-Tinged New Album Explores a Lost Art from Her Childhood

Photo by Ashkan Royayee

“BACK IN THE day, I honestly didn’t care for boleros,” says Houston mezzo soprano Cecilia Duarte of what is one of the most dramatic and lyrically poetic genres of Latin American music.

Duarte, who was born and raised in the state capital of Chihuahua City, grew up hearing boleros sung at home by her mother, but by the 1970s, the popularity of these songs was fading. Years later, Duarte is on a mission to bring back the bolero. Her new album, Reencuentros, is a collection of classic boleros from Argentina, Cuba, Chile, México, Puerto Rico, Brasil, Perú and Ecuador, each with its own unique flavor. “I call them Latin American art songs,” says Duarte, who grew to love this romantic repertoire, and says her mother is “super excited” about the album.

The arrangements on Reencuentros range from traditional to experimental. On the album’s last track, “Gracias a la Vida (Thanks to Life),” composed by Violeta Parra, with lyrics many believe foretold her tragic suicide, Duarte used the recording software GarageBand to track and layer her singing and create a quartet of voices, not unlike what one hears in pop music. Her performance breathes new life into Parra’s lyrics, which describe both the joy and tragedy of human existence. “There’s no light if we don’t have the darkness,” says Duarte.

Beginning Dec. 8, Duarte reprises her role as Renata in the Houston Grand Opera production El Milagro del Recuerdo/The Miracle of Remembering, a holiday-themed mariachi opera. Despite her busy schedule as a classical singer, Duarte looks forward to performing the boleros on Reencuentros for Houston audiences soon. “It’s a more intimate, more natural way of singing,” says Duarte. “It’s so much fun to perform these songs live!”

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