Ópera Afuera: Gustavus Alum Plays Mariachi with the Minnesota Opera

Posted on December 14th, 2021 by

Mariachi Mi Tierra performing at Minnesota Opera's first performance of the season. From L to R: Uriel Torres, Carlos Balbuena '21, Eduardo Castro, Rosalio Castro, José Rendon, Jorge Rendo, Jenny Castro. Singer: Vanessa Alonzo Picture provided by Balbuena

Carlos Balbuena ’21 recently played with the Minnesota Opera with the mariachi band, Mariachi Mi Tierra. Ópera Afuera, the opening performance of the Minnesota Opera’s 2021-2022 season, was held outside at Allianz Field. A celebration of the Latinx opera and music tradition, Balbuena and Mariachi Mi Tierra accompanied Vanessa Alonzo as she performed, “La Cigarra” and “La Malagueña.”

Mariachi Mi Tierra has made a name for themselves in the Twin Cities, and Minnesota Opera reached out directly to the music director about being involved in the event. Balbuena says he found out during rehearsal. “I really felt like it was a big thing when we started having the general rehearsals at the stadium,” he said, “you know, full of magnificent artists from all over the world.” He even reconnected with his violin instructor from Gustavus, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Violin Jill Olsen Moser, who plays with the opera orchestra.

Balbuena said his favorite part of the show was experiencing behind-the-scenes of an event like that. “You get to experience the whole show still being there and then the adrenaline of like, okay, we’re next,” he says. “Then, just really representing the traditional mariachi music on a big stage, and you know it was obviously during Hispanic heritage month and to be able to bring in traditional mariachi music and the essence to a big stage like Allianz field.”

“The event itself was very, very, very good at also showcasing every single little corner, and how, you know, Latinx music also influences modern day music,” he says. “I was really fortunate to be part of something like that, that really grasped everything and not only focused on what traditionally we think about when we first hear ‘Latinx music’.”

Balbuena joined Mariachi Mi Tierra as a violinist in 2011, as it’s primarily a family group. Only two of the current members aren’t family. “Even though yes, we have performances and gigs, essentially work, it does not feel like work at all. We’re all surrounded by family, and it’s always a good time,” he says.

Mariachi Mi Tierra has actually performed at Gustavus a few times. Most recently, Balbuena brought the group in to play for Latinx Night run by OLAs, the Latin American student organization he was a part of while at Gustavus. “It was really nice to get the feedback that we got from students or from faculty at Gustavus. It was just a big turnout as well, so it was all a good experience and I’m just grateful to present and showcase mariachi music at Gustavus.”

Besides playing with Mariachi Mi Tierra, Balbuena has also been working as an outreach worker for Richfield Dual Language School post-graduation.


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