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Jacobs School of Music voice student writes, performs opera that adapts to times



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Alejandra Villarreal Martinez poses for a photo March 3 in front of the Bess Meshulam Simon Music Library and Recital Center. She is a fourth-year doctoral student at the Jacobs School of Music. Raegan Walsh

When she sings opera, the sound fills her head like an echo in a Byzantine church. She draws strength from her back and core to belt angelic notes over a 40-piece orchestra. She's 31 and never feels weak when she sings.

Alejandra Villarreal Martinez is a doctoral student in voice at the Jacobs School of Music. As a librettist, or an opera writer, and performer, she said her mission is to find and write stories that resonate with people.

“If there's something that's most important to me, it's the idea of making opera a living, breathing art form,” Martinez said.

She said opera can be very intimate and personal, but if viewers are not familiar with the language it's sung in or do not feel welcome in a concert hall, they won’t immediately connect with the show.

“We as musicians, and as creators, have a responsibility to break through that elitist barrier and welcome all audiences to the show,” Martinez said.

She performed “Frida" in Anchorage, Alaska, from Feb. 14-16. She was part of an intimate cast of six, and each of their three shows sold out.

Martinez said “Frida," which was composed by Robert Xavier Rodríguez in the ‘90s, is an accessible opera because it is performed in Spanish and English, and not in French, Italian or German.

Martinez was born in Pasadena, California. She said her Mexican heritage and the diverse cultures present in her upbringing formed her identity. She is a graduate assistant at the Latin American Music Center, where she helps plan concerts, recruit musicians and help with publicity.

She said working with the Latin American Music Center allows her to introduce people to Latin American music, which she is passionate about.

“This is incredible, worthy music that belongs on the big stages as much as anything,” Martinez said.

Martinez has sung in Spanish, English, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese. In April, she’ll sing parts of a performance in Lithuanian.

“I’m not afraid of those languages,” Martinez said. “Students should immerse themselves in as many languages as possible.”

Jane Dutton, associate professor of voice at Jacobs, is Martinez’s voice teacher. She said Martinez has an incredibly beautiful voice and can sing a variety of music styles.

“She has a wonderful work ethic and a genuine curiosity about music, especially new works and those works by Latin American composers,” Dutton said. 

Christine Wisch, a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at Jacobs, met Martinez while they worked together at the Latin American Music Center in 2016. She said Martinez is a captivating, expressive and versatile performer, and a dear friend. 

“She is one of the highest-quality performers I have ever met,” Wisch said. “I’m pretty convinced there isn’t anything she can’t do.”

Part of Martinez's motivation for writing opera is to make new operas that reflect issues important to people today.

She is working on an opera about a woman leader in the Chicano movement who fought for civil rights. She said it's a story about revolution and the recognition of women in the movement's history. By writing about recent events in history, opera can evolve and adapt to the times.

“That’s what I’m interested in,” she said. “The cutting edge.”

Martinez said performing opera is a celebration of being human. When the sound fills her mind, it’s a bizarre feeling of strength and control.

“It’s unreal,” Martinez said. “Singing is a miracle.”

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