EFEGuadalajara, Mexico

An opera sung entirely in Nahuatl and featuring an orchestra made up of indigenous instruments is bringing one of the erotic epic poems of Mexico's pre-Columbian communities to a modern audience.

Mexican musicologist and historian Gabriel Pareyon adopted the anonymous text "Xochicuicatl cuecuechtli," an epic poem that was sung and performed by actors from the Nahuatl culture centuries before the Spanish conquest.

Because of the mischievous quality, double meanings and profound eroticism of the text, it has been translated into Spanish as "canto florido de travesuras" (Flowery Song of Naughtiness)," Pareyon told Efe during a presentation of the work in this central-western city.

The poem survived the censorship imposed by the Spanish conquistadors, who arrived in present-day Mexico in 1519, thanks to Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagun, who transcribed it and included it in a 16th century collection of Nahuatl songs and poems titled "Cantares mexicanos."

"It was banned because in it there are scantily clad men and women who do a lot of dancing, and that (was not conducive) to the evangelizing process," Pareyon said, adding that the theme of sexuality in pre-Columbian cultures had been little studied until around three decades ago.

Pareyon researched Nahuatl literary, linguistic and musical sources for a decade with the help of French semiologist and historian Patrick Johansson in converting this traditional epic poem into an opera format.

The result is a work that is far removed from the arias and string instruments associated with the European operatic tradition and which was even written without sheet music to "remain coherent" with Nahuatl lyrical poetry, he said.

The score and vocal parts for the five actors in "Xochicuicatl cuecuechtli" were meticulously crafted in keeping with the cadence and oral tradition of Nahuatl, a language still spoken in eight Mexican states, making it a "uniquely sounding work," Pareyon said.

The opera is a mixture of pre-Columbian poetry, dance and music that also draws on the symbols and worldview of Mexico's ancient cultures.

The opera begins with the sound of a conch shell, which evokes the creation of the universe, and the sensual dance moves of the "ahuianimeh," women trained from a young age to entertain Nahuatl warriors.

The performance is accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Jose Navarro and consisting of 60 instruments native to Mesoamerica, making it the first of its type in Mexico.

The opera premiered in August 2014 in the Indian community of Arcelia, in the southern state of Guerrero, and it was performed again this week as part of celebrations to mark the 473rd anniversary of the founding of Guadalajara.

In April, organizers will bring the opera to Mexico City's National Center for the Arts.

Pareyon said it will be performed in several European countries in 2016, although no concert dates have been set. EFE

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