From the violence of a Colombian port to the stage of lyrical singing

Growing up in a poor and violent port town on Colombia’s Pacific coast, Betty Garcés was raised to the rhythm of drums and marimbas. During her childhood she never listened to classical music, but destiny led her to opera singing and the stage.

“I never thought this would happen to me because, unfortunately, the environment I grew up in Buenaventura didn’t give me many opportunities to dream,” says Betty Garcés, 39, with her sweet smile inspired by AFP was taken at the Teatro Colon in Bogotá.

Her hometown of about 315,000, surrounded by a lush oceanfront jungle, is mostly populated by Afro descendants like her, with a poverty rate of 41% and recurring violence linked to the cocaine trade, including Colombia being the world’s largest producer.

She owes her salvation to her parents, a math teacher and artist, who, like her sisters, sent her to study in the neighboring city of Cali “to protect us as soon as we were 14”.

She first studied singing at the Cali Conservatory “without having the slightest idea what opera is”. One day his teacher let him listen to a tape of the black American singer Jessye Norman, who interpreted Richard Wagner. “I don’t know what happened to me back then, but everything moved me. I had no idea what she was saying because I had never heard anyone speak German before. But an unbreakable bond was woven.”

Given her talent, her teachers did their best to get her a scholarship in Germany, a country where she has been living since 2009.

– “Conscious Song” –

Betty Garcés discovered her artistic sensitivity in her childhood thanks to her grandparents, one of whom was deaf and the other blind.

The soprano struggled to communicate with the rest of her family and was bullied at school, so her grandparents’ house was her sanctuary.

When her grandfather “played the harmonica”, she would “lie down on the floor to hold (her) ear to it and amplify the sound” by “imagining that she was in another world”.

When her grandmother died, her world collapsed. Betty Garcés had no idea that tears and despair would then appear for her “a new language”: music.

“I was left alone (…) in full sorrow, in a difficult moment for a 10-year-old girl. Losing her only emotional reference point in life is very meaningful,” she recalls.

But one day, amid tears, “I began to moan,” and “out of those moans, wordless melodies began to slip.” It was my soul looking for an outlet for so much pain and emotion,” she said, still moved.

From that “first memory of conscious singing,” “I started singing and never stopped,” she says with an enthusiastic smile.

– “The power to try” –

In the theater of the Colombian capital, Betty Garcés’ voice rises powerfully to the tones of Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos”.

In a blond wig and shiny dress, the singer captivates and entertains with a parodic and critical nod to the world of theater at a party in the middle of World War II. “Betty is a dream Ariadne (…) vocally and dramatically,” explains Andorran director Joan Anton Rechi, who mixes classic tragedy and popular flamenco spectacle.

At Betty Garcé’s last greeting to the audience, the theater showers her with applause: “The affection with which the Colombian audience welcomes you (…) makes you want to surpass yourself on stage,” she rejoices.

Reflecting on her past, the singer concludes that “despite the difficulties, in a way the doors keep opening.”

And when she talks about her life today, it is “in the hope that a still hesitant young person will hear her. Because “if I were the kid I was, this story would give me the strength to try”.

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