Classical Music & Dance

KC soprano Victoria Botero’s transcultural ‘Morena’ program tells tales of persistence

Classical singer Victoria Sofia Botero will present “Moreno,” songs of Sephardic, Christian and Muslim women, with her ensemble Saturday, July 22, at the 1900 Building in Mission Woods.
Classical singer Victoria Sofia Botero will present “Moreno,” songs of Sephardic, Christian and Muslim women, with her ensemble Saturday, July 22, at the 1900 Building in Mission Woods. .

Ever since moving to Kansas City in 2002, soprano Victoria Sofia Botero has made a mark on the local music scene.

Her collaborations with guitarist Beau Bledsoe and various other musicians and ensembles have resulted in much memorable music, with such diverse styles as classical recitals, Latin American folkand cutting edge avant-garde. Botero and her ensemble will present “Morena,” songs of Sephardic, Christian and Muslim women on July 22 at the 1900 Building in Mission Woods.

“Morena” is just the sort of transcultural program that Botero has made a specialty. Even her graduate recital for her master’s degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance was inspired by different cultures.

“My master’s recital was called ‘North and South,’ and I did art songs from North America and South America,” Botero said. “It’s funny, but my graduate recital was kind of the nexus for ‘Morena.’”

Botero first performed with Bledsoe at her graduate recital, too. She has performed countless times with him over the years, and he will join her for “Morena.” When Botero wanted to sing an arrangement of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilleiras No. 5 for voice and guitar on her graduate recital, a professor at the Conservatory suggested she seek out Bledsoe.

“I knew Beau by reputation, because everybody knows Beau Bledsoe,” Botero said. “I thought, ‘He’s so cool, I bet he would never, ever work with me’ But I got his number, and I called him, and he’s Beau Bledsoe, gentle and nice, and he said ‘Oh, yeah, I know that piece. I’ll do it.’”

Another popular local musician joining Botero for “Morena” is violist da gamba, Gerald Trimble. He is, in addition to the viol, a master of many other world instruments and is well-versed in Islamic culture.

“It’s been really interesting the past couple of months going over Arabic repertoire because that is the most distant for me musically,” Botero said. “But Gerald has spent a lot of time in the Middle East and knows this music not so much by studying it but by playing it. He knows the language and the culture, so he’s been wonderful to work with.”

Percussionist John Kizilarmut and soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson are also taking part in “Morena,” a program of songs that can be traced to the Middle Ages.

“Morena is a Spanish word, and it refers to a woman and her skin color, toasted brown,” Botero said. “Morena is a term I grew up with in my family. It’s when you get a little tan. It’s a mark of beauty to be brown.”

Botero is the daughter of Colombian immigrants. Her father joined the U.S. Army, so Botero was raised on military bases all over the world. She was born in the state of Georgia, but lived in Germany and traveled all over Europe.

“I’m not really from anywhere,” Botero said.

Her interest in opera was sparked when she was a child and saw a production of the Mozart opera “Così fan tutte” on television. She subsequently got her bachelor’s degree in music from the Catholic University of America and for a while lived in Italy studying opera. In Italy two of her colleagues told her of a voice teacher, Inci Bashar, who was on the faculty at the UMKC Conservatory.

“I didn’t really have the firm technical foundation that a singer needs, so I contacted Inci,” Botero said. “At that point, she was traveling to New York to visit, so I called and I asked if I could take a lesson with her in New York. This was literally three weeks after 9/11, so it was a really emotional time. I walked into this voice lesson, and it was life-changing.”

In 2002 Botero moved to Kansas City to pursue her studies with Bashar at UMKC Conservatory, where she eventually earned two master’s degrees, one in voice and one in musicology. After a lifetime of roaming, the peripatetic Botero finally found her home and settled down.

“I love Kansas City,” Botero said. “I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived here. I feel deeply part of the community. I came at the right time when the city really picked up the idea that the arts is an economic generator, not just good for our souls, which they are, but also something that can revitalize cities.”

Botero’s life in Kansas City has not been without its challenges. She is the mother of a 6-year-old boy and has been a single mother since her pregnancy, when she and her husband divorced. Botero said her struggle to raise a young child while not giving up on her singing career has given her empathy for those Sephardic, Christian and Muslim women who continued to sing even through the darkest times of persecution.

“What keeps me in Kansas City is a fierce loyalty to the people who held me up when I went through that terrible period during my pregnancy, when I was facing motherhood alone,” Botero said. “What I learned through that experience and my research for this concert is that singing through trauma is not unique. These songs are from the perspective of women who lived and loved in a landscape way more challenging than mine. Religious differences can be bridged by simple empathy for a lived experience.”

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Victoria Sofia Botero performs at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 22, at the 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $15-$25.