By Stephen Vargha
One of Cuenca’s international stars is helping to honor the city’s independence from the Spanish 200 years ago. Forty-year-old Sandra Argudo is giving back to her hometown with a special performance. The soprano and mariachi singer along with tenor Diego Zamora were involved in a very special concert by the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra.
The concert, recorded on Friday, was at the “mythical” Pumapungo Archaeological Complex. It is where the Inca Temple of the Sun and the Convent of the Virgins of the Sun were located. They were part of Tomebamba, one of the most imposing and beautiful cities of the empire. Buildings at the site were dedicated to political and administrative use as well as religious purposes.
Set on a hill overlooking Cuenca and the surrounding mountains, the orchestra performed Twisters- Entreacto, Toreador y Habanera of the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet, La Strada de Nino Rota, Pasional, Pasillo by Enrique Espín Yépez, Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, As if he were a child and You and I, Corridos of Francisco Paredes Herrera, Mambos No. 5 and No. 8 by Dámaso Pérez Prado, Tico-Tico de Zequinha by Abreu, Chola Cuencana, Pasacalle by Rafael Carpio Abad.
Llamas were grazing around the orchestra as Ms. Argudo and Mr. Zamora “capped” it off with “That’s Why I Love You Cuenca, Capishca” by Carlos Ortiz Cobos. The entire orchestra and the two singers were given Cuenca toquilla hats (commonly known by the misnomer, Panama hat) for the uplifting finale that honors 200 years of independence from the Spanish.
How did Cuenca get so lucky to have the soprano singer for the special anniversary recording? It goes back to Ms. Argudo’s childhood. At an early age, she knew she wanted to be a singer. Her mother was a singer, so it was natural for her to do the same.
“I started with kids’ songs,” Ms. Argudo states. “I then went on to popular songs.”
Her formal training began when she was very young and entered Cuenca’s José María Rodríguez Conservatory. She was part of the Children’s, Prejuvenate and Youth Choir before joining a local mariachi band when she was just 15 years old.
The singer stayed exclusively with the band until she was 18 years old, when she split her time as a solo artist and being a member of the mariachi band. “I performed Ecuadorian music as it is respected, and people will pay for it,” Argudo explained.
Mariachi music originated in Mexico. Most claims for its origin lie in the state of Jalisco, but neighboring states of Colima, Nayarit, and Michoacán have also claimed it. The exact location has never been determined, but most put the origin of the modern mariachi in the town of Cocula, Jalisco.
Argudo’s repertoire expanded at the age of 26 when she was classically trained at the University of Cuenca. “My mom made me study classical music, and that is when I started to like opera,” the soprano singer stated. While at the university, she studied Italian and French as well. Both languages have helped her with her operatic singing.
Making a living in Ecuador as an opera singer is not the easiest thing to do. “There is very little opera in Ecuador,” Argudo explained. “There’s not much culture of opera, and very few singers.”
Germany is considered the leader of the pack, in terms of the love of opera, the institutionalized cultivation of opera culture, and the care and support it gives to opera singers. Other countries known for their support of the opera are Austria, Switzerland, France, and the United States.
To help with her love of opera, Argudo went on to tours to the United States, including venues in New York City, New Jersey, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Because of her years as a mariachi singer, she did numerous performances in Mexico, too. She was scheduled to perform at a concert in Toronto, Canada later this year, but the pandemic cancelled those plans.
Argudo has sung for the Cuenca symphony several times before. It is one reason she performed on Friday. “I love Cuenca! I want to show my love for the city as a daughter of Cuenca,” she exclaimed.
“It was so nice of the city to recognize me as part of Cuenca’s culture,” the talented singer added.
And it is so nice that everyone will have an opportunity to watch the entire performance online. You can see it all in the Digital Concert Hall of the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra on YouTube as well as on the symphony’s Facebook page and on Unsión TV.
Photos by Stephen Vargha