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Camelia la Tejana-Only the Truth

(¡Únicamente La Verdad!)

by Gabriela Ortiz


Sung in Spanish with English Supertitles 

Unicamente La VerdadOutlaws. Love. Deceit.  Camelia la Tejana - Only the Truth (¡Únicamente La Verdad!) is based on a popular Mexican ballad, “Contrabando y Traicion” (Smuggling and Betrayal). This docu-opera, lifted from the headlines, follows Camelia la Tejana and her lover as they smuggle drugs across the border to Los Angeles. The payoff becomes a deadly showdown! Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz creates a pulsing score that fuses classical and Mexican influences.


Eleazar Pacheco Moreno got his head chopped off on the train tracks in Ciudad Juarez after partying with Camelia la Tejana according to Alarma! magazine. Was she there? Did she become an evangelist preacher? Come and find out! A Brechtian deconstructivist use of experimental video in a documentary/opera/corrido... Camelia’s path in public perception from make believe to corporeality and to myth, to larger-than-life status.

The opera explores the creation of a popular myth through media and is also a painful analytic narration of the harsh reality of drug trafficking and migration in northern Mexico.

The libretto holds power and poetry. The music, ranging stylistically from exotic avant-garde to lyrical, fits the subject marvelously. The visual elements called for provide an atmosphere at once real and surreal. ( Peter Jacobi, Bloomington Herald Times)

Gabriela ortiz

"A long time ago, I received a commission from the Organization of American States to write a chamber opera. When I discussed this with my brother, Rubén, he suggested that we look at Alarma (a tabloid magazine that claims to print 'only the truth!') as a point of departure for ideas about popular stories in the news media that had a particular social impact. We found a piece of news with shocking visual images about a man who committed suicide because of a woman, Camelia la Tejana. From that story, we started to conceive the entire opera. Fact and fiction get mixed up and fuel popular retelling and mythology. The opera weaves together these truths and legends, their facts and fictions, ever seeking and transforming the truth.

Gabriela Ortiz is one of the foremost composers in Mexico today, and one of the most vibrant musicians emerging in the international scene. Her musical language achieves an extraordinary and expressive synthesis of tradition and the avant-garde; combining high art, folk music, and jazz in novel, frequently refined, and always personal ways. Her compositions are credited for being both entertaining and immediate as well as profound and sophisticated; she achieves a balance between highly organized structure and improvisatory spontaneity. Although based in Mexico, her music is commissioned and performed all over the world.

Recent commissions and premieres include her new videopera Únicamente la Verdad! with The Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble under Carmen Helena Téllez, Altar de Piedra for three percussion players, timpani and orchestra for Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kroumata percussion ensemble; Zócalo-Bastilla, for violin, percussion and orchestra premiered by violinist Pierre Amoyal, percussionist Ricardo Gallardo and OFUNAM Philharmonic; Altar de Muertos, a string quartet commissioned by Kronos Quartet; Zócalo Tropical for flute, percussion and orchestra premiered by flutist Luis Julio Toro, and percussionist Ricardo Gallardo and Orquesta Simon Bolivar;100 Watts commissioned by Trio Neos; Seis piezas a Violeta for string quartet and piano premiered by The Cuarteto Latinoamericano and pianist Arturo Nieto and Baalkah a new work for Kronos Quartet and soprano Dawn Upshaw. 

Ortiz has been honored with the Civitella Ranieri Artistic Residency; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; the Fulbright Fellowship; the Distinción Universidad Nacional; the First prize of the Silvestre Revueltas National Chamber Music Competition with her piece Altar de muertos; the First Prize at the Alicia Urreta Composition Competition; the Composers Award and the National Artists System Fellowship from the Mexican Council for the Arts and Culture; Banff Center for the Arts Residency; the Inroads Commission, a Program of Arts International with funds from the Ford Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; the Mozart Medal Award for Mexican Theatre and Music as the best composer of 1997 and The Fundación Cultural Bancomer Award.

Born in Mexico City, her parents were musicians in the famous folk music ensemble Los Folkloristas, which was founded in 1966 to preserve and record the traditional music of Mexico and Latin America. She trained with the eminent composer Mario Lavista at the National Conservartory of Music and with Federico Ibarra at the National University of Mexico. In 1990 she was awarded the British Council Fellowship to study in London with Robert Saxton at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1992 she received the University of Mexico Scholarship to complete Ph.D. studies in electroacoustic music composition with Simon Emmerson at The City University in London. She currently teaches composition at the Mexican University of Mexico City, and at The Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University.

Interview with Gabriela Ortiz

Ruben ortiz torres

Ruben Ortiz Torres was born in Mexico City in 1964. Educated within the utopian models of republican Spanish anarchism, he soon confronted the tragedies and cultural clashes of a post colonial third world. After giving up the dream of playing baseball in the major leagues he decided to study art. He went first to the oldest and one of the most academic art schools of the Americas (the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City) and later to one of the newest and more experimental (Calarts in Valencia, CA). After enduring Mexico City's earthquakes and pollution he moved to LA with a Fullbright grant to survive riots, fires, floods, more earthquakes, and proposition 187. During all this he has been able to produce artwork in the form of paintings, photographs, objects, installations, videos, and films. He is part of the permanent Faculty of the University of California in San Diego. He has participated in several international exhibitions and film festivals. His work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid Spain and others.

About the Opera

The opera had its professional premiere in a production of the Festival de México and Compañía Nacional de Opera on March 11, 2010  at Teatro Julio Castillo in Mexico City. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music presented the first collegiate production on Aug. 8, 2008.

This  videopera, a hybrid genre better described as a contemporary video-opera-documentary, is based on published journalism; particularly a real case published in La Alarma, a Mexico city tabloid weekly magazine. This 'news' exposed the real Camelia "La Tejana" (Camelia, the Texan), the mythical character in the narco-corrido contrabando y traición (smuggling and betrayal) made popular by the norteño music band Los Tigres del Norte.

One of the principal functions of the corrido is to synthesize and disseminate the myths that are embedded in popular consciousness. Consider, for example, the case of narco-traffic, which has tremendous impact on our community. Our popular composers, recreating our society and its problems, have taken note of this criminal activity and have made it a theme for their compositions. Why would they make an admirable brave and respected figure out of the drug dealer? What induces an audience to listen with implicit approval to the stories of individuals who are prototypes for armed violence?

Drawing on the narco-corrido contrabando y traición as a point of departure, our video-opera reconstructs the "true story" of Camelia La Tejana, a trafficker in marijuana between Tijuana and Los Angeles, and a murderer for love. We approximate this narrative because clearly, it resembles the classic tragedies and plots historically employed in opera. Moreover, both genres of narco-corrido and opera share such archetypical concepts as love, treason, a weapon, and death. Then again, our mythical portrait of Camelia not only recreates situations that are identifiable in reality, it also makes fiction out of reality and invents new characters in this story.

Our point of departure is material generated by the mass media, which play such a fundamental role in the popular culture of Latin America. They present the tragedies of daily life with such dramatic flair so as to compete with the tragedies in opera. For instance, tabloids like La Alarma relate violent stories in the crudest and most melodramatic fashion exhibiting harrowing photographs of urban conflict and crimes of passion under the pretense of revealing the "whole truth".

Our idea is to use these press materials as a resource to show how a legendary figure such as Camelia La Tejana becomes an integral part of the formation of identity, and of the construction and decoding of a collective imaginary of certain social groups. To realize this concept, we have created an opera closer to a post-modern multimedia work than to the conventional nineteenth-century versions of the genre. We use video and film to support the narrative of the libretto and to reinforce the emotional content of the music. We reject traditional theatrical sets in favor of projections of the actual locations where the events in the story took place. At the same time, a video captures the singers in real time, and the resulting images are mixed with the preexisting film to create a scenic discourse that mixes the present with the past; the real and the imaginary; the locale of the audience and the frontier world of the smugglers. In this manner we aim to construct and deconstruct a representation of reality through the employment of mass media devices and languages placed ultimately at the service of artistic expression.

Finally, we want the opera's music to manifest the strong syncretic impulse that exists in the popular genres of the communities of the frontier. In other words, we embrace our multicultural condition, and with it, the richness of our double historical past, both European and Indian, and our ultimately complex continental present. Using the most sophisticated technical resources, we remain connected to the undeniable power of both local and international musical streams, accepting our place as artists who are immersed in a specific place time and cultural circumstances.

Gabriela Ortiz (composer), Ruben Ortiz Torres (visual artist)


The corrido is a popular narrative song and poetry form: a ballad. The songs are often about oppression, history, the daily life of peasants, and other socially important information. It is still a popular form today, and was widely popular during the Nicaraguan Revolutions of the twentieth-century. It derives largely from the romance, and in its most known form consists of a salutation from the singer and prologue to the story, the story itself and a moral and farewell from the singer.

Various themes are featured in Mexican corridos, and corrido lyrics often feature old legends and ballads about a famed criminal or hero in the rural frontier areas of Mexico although there are also corridos that feature women and couples (La Venganza de Maria, Laurita Garza, and La Tragedia de Rosita.) Contemporary corridos also feature such contemporary themes as drug trafficking (narcocorridos), immigration, migrant labor, and even the Chupacabra.

From the day that it was created, the corrido has been a male-dominated form of expression. Not only were they written about and by men, but they were also performed primarily by men for men. Any women in corridos were traditionally relegated to passive roles, generally the weeping mother, the mourning widow, or the traitor.

In the 1960s, amongst an environment of changing gender roles, the first woman protagonist in a corrido emerged. She was known as Camelia la Tejana and she was brought to life by author Angel Gonzáles and conjunto Los Tigres del Norte in the smash-hit "Contrabando y Traición." The response to Camelia la Tejana and her exploits was humongous. There was much clamor for more corridos involving tough Camelia.

At this point author Angel Gonzáles claims that he refused to write another corrido about Camelia la Tejana. In his mind these type of corridos were not worth while; however, a sequel, "Ya Encontraron a Camelia" was released by Los Tigres del Norte. The credit for this song was given to none other than Angel Gonzáles. To this day he claims that he did not write this corrido or the one that came out after it "El Hijo de Camelia." Some say that Los Tigres del Norte got another author to write these corridos and then gave the credit to Gonzáles. We may never know the truth.

Despite all the controversy over who penned these corridos, one thing is certain. Women protagonists in corridos are extremely popular. After Camelia la Tejana first appeared on the scene, numerous corridos were released featuring women in controlling roles. History was changed with "Contrabando y Traición." The world of corridos will never be the same.

Norteño music and Los tigres del norte

Norteño is a genre of Mexican popular music, also popular in the United States. Though originating in rural areas, norteño is popular in urban areas as well.

The norteno band Los Tigres del Norte was started by Jorge Hernández, his brothers, and his cousins. They began recording after moving to San Jose, California in the late 1960s, when all the members were still in their teens. They were sponsored by a local record company, Discos Fama, owned by an Englishman named Art Walker, who took them under his wing and helped them find jobs and material, as well as recording all of their early albums.

The Tigres were at first only locally popular, but took off after Jorge and Art Walker heard a Los Angeles mariachi singer perform a song in the early 1971 about a couple of drug runners, Emilio Varela and Camelia la Tejana. There had been occasional ballads (corridos, in Mexican terminology) about the cross-border drug trade ever since Prohibition in the 1920s, but never a song as cinematic as this, featuring a woman smuggler who shoots the man and takes off with the money. After getting permission to record this song, Los Tigres del Norte released Contrabando y Traición ("Contraband and Betrayal") in 1974. The song quickly hit on both sides of the border, inspired a series of movies, and kicked off one of the most remarkable careers in Spanish-language pop music.

In norteño/conjunto form (a style featuring accordion that originated along the Texas border region), Los Tigres del Norte have been able to portray "real life" in a manner that strikes a chord with people across the Americas. Many of their most popular songs consist of tales or corridos about life, love, and the struggle to survive in an imperfect world. They regularly touch on the subject of narcotics and illegal immigration, but they have also shared stories of love and betrayal between a man and a woman. Together, the band and its public has turned norteño music into an international genre. The band has modernized the music, infusing it with bolero, cumbia, rock rhythms, waltzes, as well as effects of machine guns and sirens integrated with the music.

The band has won five Latin Grammy Awards and sold 32 million records.

On January 9, 2007, Los Tigres del Norte was honored as a BMI Icon at the 14th annual BMI Latin Awards. Los Tigres, who were saluted that evening with an all-star musical tribute, were being honored as BMI Icons for their “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers.” They joined an elite list that includes such Latin music giants as Juan Luis Guerra and Carlos Santana.

They have performed before the United States Armed Forces in Japan and South Korea.

In 2010, the band made headlines by joining in a massive international boycott of the US State of Arizona, in response to the state's Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.

Learn more about Los Tigres del Norte


Contrabando y Traicion/Smuggling and Betrayal

Salieron de San Isidro / They left from San Isidro
Procedente desde Tijuana / Proceeding from Tijuana
Traían las llantas del carro / With the tires of their car
Repletas de hierva mala / Replete with Marijuana

Eran Emilio Barela... / They were Emilio Varela
Y Camelia la Tejana... / And Camelia la Tejana

Pasaron por San Clemente / The passed by San Clemente
Los paro la imigración /Where immigration stopped them
Les pidio sus documentos / Requesting their documents
Les dijo ¿de dónde son? / And asking "Where are you from?"

Ella era de San Antonio... / She was from San Antonio

Una hembra de corazón.. / A very passionate woman

Una hembra si quiere a un hombre... / When a woman loves a  man
por el puede dar la vida / She can give her life for him
pero hay que tener cuidado si esa embra se siente herida / But one must be really careful
Si esa hembra se siente herida / When that woman feels betrayed

la traición y el contrabando / For betrayal and smuggling
son cosas incompartidas / Are not things to be shared

A Los Angeles llegaron  / They arrived in Los Angeles
A Hollywood se pasaron  / And went on to Hollywood
En un callejon oscuro / And in a dark alley

Las cuatro llantas cambiaron / They exchanged the four car tires

Ahí entregaron la hierva / There they delivered the weed
Y ahí tambien les pagaron / And there they got paid

Emilio dice a Camelia / Emilio said to Camelia
Hoy te das por despedida / Today, I am terminating your services
Con la parte que te toca / With the share of the money you've earned
Tu puedes rehacer tu vida / You can restart your life

Yo me voy pa' San Francisco / I am going to San Francisco
Con la dueña de mi vida / With the woman who owns my life

Sonaron siete balasos / Seven shots blasted out
Camelia a Emilio mataba / When Camelia killed Emilio
La policia solo hayo / The police only found
Una pistola tirada / A discarded pistol

Del dinero y de Camelia  / About the money and Camelia
Nunca más se supo nada. / Nothing more was ever known.


Sung in Spanish with English Supertitles 

For many years now Mexicans everywhere have known about Camelia "La Tejana," who was the subject of three corridos popularized by the famous band "Los Tigres del Norte." Unlike women in other corridos, Camelia had dared to kill one Emilio Varela, the lover who betrayed her after they smuggled some weed over the border together. Many years later, another man commits suicide by lying on the train tracks in the Mexican town Ciudad Juarez. As soon as this takes place, the tabloid "El Alarma," claiming to report "only the truth" reveals that Camelia is not a myth and that she may have something to do with the man's death. While the media, the public, and many men revel in their ties to Camelia, her myth and her reality; a journalist is intent on findig the truth behind it all.

Scene 1: Prologue - The Alarma!

Ciudad Juarez, capital of drug dealing and illegal migration. The chorus tells
the story of the suicide Eleazar Pacheco Moreno, quoting the sensationalist
tabloid Alarm! Spiteful, poor and drunk; Eleazar placed his head on the
railroad tracks and was beheaded. A citizen of El Paso remembers a Camelia
La Tejana ("The Texan"), who seemed to be tied to him ... Just a junkie
prostitute. His mythical image appears, singing only sighs, as he will
throughout the work.

Scene 2: TV Azteca - Agustina Ramirez Corrido

A journalistic investigation of TV Azteca's news department has discovered a
woman (Agustina Ramirez) who claims to be the legendary Camelia from the
corrido, despite she denies the veracity of the song. In the glamorous and
seedy television interview, she tells her story: after being raped in her
childhood, she spent time in drug trafficking and had many men under her
command, but now preaches God's Word.

Scene 3: Camelia's Father - El Tigre "The Tiger"

In a fictitious scenic meeting, Camelia's three putative fathers present their
versions: Elijah Wald, historian, researcher at the University of Californa,
discusses the impact of the corrido "Contrabando y Traicion". The composer
of that corrido Angel Gonzalez recalls how he wrote it, and assures everything
is fiction. The lead singer of "Los Tigres del Norte", Jorge Hernandez, lectures
on the artistic creation, fame and the corrido that made them famous.


Scene 4:The Blogger

The anonymous author of a blog publishes his hallucinating personal theories
about the reality (undeniable for him) of the existence of the Camelia from the
corrido. His opinions range between morals, cheap philosophy and rude
statements about the character's nature and drug trafficking.


Scene 5: Camelia Maria

The journalist from La Jornada Cesar Guemes has found, after arduous
investigation, another mysterious woman that seems to be the historic
Camelia, who acquiesces to give an interview in a car with tinted windows
demanding absolute discretion. She answers his questions in an elusive way, 
denies being a killer and blames the media about this stories, allowing to see
somehow that she (possibly) was the real Camelia.




Scene 6: Eleazar's Suicide - Funerary

After witnessing Eleazar's rail decapitation in video, followed by
electroacoustic music, some witnesses complete their testimonies and finish
their analysis of the suicide in the very particular style of the tabloid '" [Alarma!"]

Giiemes the journalist states: "And from Camelia nothing was ever known
The mythic Camelia sings a cappella the corrido "Contrabando y Traicion"
electronically intervened.


Nannette Brodie (Choreography)

This is Nannette’s third season with LBO having choreographed Akhnaten, Maria de Buenos Aires, Ainadamar and Paper Nautilus. In 1986, she started her own modern dance company, the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre. Her choreography has been performed in more than 300 venues throughout California and in New York, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Chicago, Mexico City, Helsinki, Prague, and Paris. She is an alumnus of the Nikolais-Louis Dance Lab in NY.  She was named Artist of the Year for the city of Long Beach in 2007.

Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre, a modern dance company of drama, wit, joy and invention capable of moving everyone in their audience, presented their first performance in 1986. The company is celebrating their 25th season this year and continues to produce a rich palette of movement and theatre providing a unique and provocative experience. NBDT has performed throughout Europe, Mexico and the United States for over 275,000 people.  Follow them to the Ford Amphitheater on August 31st for their production of the L.A. So-Cal Dance Invitational.