Victoria Botero at home (photo by Jim Barcus)
The lauded soprano is recognized with cultural producer grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation for her The Cecilia Series of concerts, including an upcoming program highlighting Gabriel García Márquez
A soprano hits the high notes. The highest.
Victoria Botero has been doing that since she settled here in 2002. Operatically, she has performed in Kansas City and across the country in “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Rigoletto,” “Pirates of Penzance,” the locally produced world premiere “The Giver” and even an opera-adapted TEDxKC presentation. Theatrically, she has taken on roles with The Coterie, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and Fishtank Theatre. And she has given a myriad of concerts devoted to Mozart, Bernstein, and even sacred classical music with the Northern Ireland artists The Priests, on their 2018 Sony BMG tour.
In a contemporary vein, Botero has joined forces with Brad Cox and Owen/Cox Dance Group, newEar Ensemble, Ashley Miller, ArtSounds, the Black House Collective, Ensemble Ibérica and KC Baroque Consortium. In film and television, she was a presence in “Homecoming: An Evening with Virgil T,” remembering the brilliance of Virgil Thompson, and “Devotion,” a short film by Don Maxwell on the work of ceramics artist Linda Lighton.
Increasingly, however, Botero is self-producing, creating her own material and introducing unexplored and educational content to audiences. Two primary motivations are to highlight the unappreciated women and people of color in music history, and to pay homage to the contributions of immigrants and little-known international artists.
Botero was born in this country and grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, but her family is from Colombia, and she is steadily more interested in honoring those roots.
Botero originated The Cecilia Series to “explore the cultural meaning of the song repertoire, finding the connective tissue between composers, writers, and performers of many eras and traditions.”
For the past two years she has offered a holiday concert, “Navidad~Natal,” with actress Vanessa Severo, from Brazil, featuring seasonal traditions, music and storytelling from their South American family backgrounds. In 2020 it was virtual, filmed at the 1900 Building, but in December 2021, a full audience at the Black Box applauded Botero, Severo, Bolivian musician Amado Espinoza, and accompanist Lamar Sims, amid a very festive Latin American atmosphere.
Years ago, Botero originated The Cecilia Series to “explore the cultural meaning of the song repertoire, finding the connective tissue between composers, writers, and performers of many eras and traditions.”
The project’s performances at the 1900 Building have included “La Serenissima,” featuring the 17th-century Venetian composers Barbara Strozzi and Benedetto Ferrari; “Morena,” showcasing traditional music of Sephardic, Arabic and Armenian women; “The Music of Susan Kander,” a retrospective of the Kansas City native composer, including the world premiere of “Eavesdropping,” a song cycle from the poetry of Michelle Boisseau; the KC premiere of “dwb (driving while black),” featuring soprano and librettist Roberta Gumbel; and “The Cult of the Soprano,” illuminating music written exclusively for women from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
Botero was gratified to receive a Cultural Producer grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation for her 2022 The Cecilia Series. “As difficult as these 19 months have been, I have never believed more in the power of art to spark change,” she said. “I am proud that the committee recognized my work to upend the classical recital and bring marginalized voices to the stage.”
The series kicks off with a program highlighting Nobel Prize winner in Literature Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia’s most famous son. The evening will transport the listeners to Macondo, the stand-in for García Márquez’s birthplace, Aracataca, the north Colombian town he made famous. Participating in the show will be KC talents Calvin Arsenia, Amado Espinoza and Latin GRAMMY winner Andrés Salguero. The date and venue of the performance are to be determined.
Further into the year, The Cecilia Series will continue with “Dissident,” a concert of music by Sergei Prokofiev, John Tavener and Iris Dement, three seemingly unconnected composers who were all inspired to write music based on the censored works of the extraordinary Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.
In a radio interview with Gina Kauffman about “The Cult of the Soprano,” Botero characterized operatic soprano roles as traditionally desperate. The characters are usually suicidal, deranged, dying or lethal, all due to tragically limited choices. She says one must “dig deep” to “understand these women are powerful in their own way.” They rarely triumph.
Botero is a total contradiction to that. She is positive, enthusiastic and fulfilled in her life direction. For years her pride and joy has been her son, Lorenzo, and the two built a loving, unbreakable partnership. In November of last year, she wed Dr. Langston Hemenway, professor of music and director of instrumental studies at William Jewell College. Now the three are making beautiful music together.
Coloratura is a technique in opera connected most closely with sopranos. It involves flashy high notes, trills, runs and elaborate ornamentation and is thrilling to opera audiences.
It’s virtuosic. Which perfectly describes Victoria Botero.
As critic Patrick Neas observed in a January 2019 profile in “The Kansas City Star,” “A concert by Botero is more than just a recital of beautiful songs, it’s a reflection on the human condition.”
For more information and a concert schedule, visit www.victoriabotero.com.