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Juanita Ulloa inadvertently created Operachi when first releasing her 2002 CD entitled “Mujeres & Mariachi”. She blended her operatic training into her singing and chose of some of the most demanding huapango genre songs from the Mexican ranchera tradition, also adding her own compositions. Rather than sing them in a high, female operatic range, she kept them in the traditional low contralto range of female ranchera singers, but extended the use of the high voice with falsete (falsetto) breaks. The result was a review in, hailing her as the “High Priestess of Operachi”.


As Juanita herself confesses, “it can be daunting to define a new style, especially since it is continually evolving”. The term obviously combines opera and mariachi in some fashion, but it is more complex and far reaching than that.

On a repertoire level only, one could say anything that SOUNDS Operachi, could be Operachi. A man or woman might choose a Classical song and give it a mariachi feel, or vica-versa. Most opera singers, however, sing non-operatic material such as mariachi songs in operatic style and therefore continue to sound like opera singers.

Most female ranchera singers sing only in the lower ranchera range, and they are choosing to not using their full range because this is the sound and style they are accustomed to, and/or they have not yet trained to open it up; hence, they cannot sing opera or Classical Mexican art songs except in a very low range and cannot cross over.

Today, both men and women sing in the previously male dominated ranchera style, but due to innate physical vocal differences between men and women, the results can be very different (some call it mariachi, but this term refers to a person wearing the charro costume, the ensemble, a fiesta with music, and other things beyond the scope of our topic at hand).

It is important to note that Operachi also addresses vocal techniques particular to women that go beyond the songs chosen; therefore, women can highlight this new tradition better than men. Men sing both ranchera and operatic songs in exactly the same range. They have always used their full range and have no no new range to extend into; therefore, their opportunities to vary the style switch through their technique or sound are limited to tone color, their use of falsete (falsetto) and their use of the upper extension of their voice.

Although women have more of a choice, to date, they don’t always use it. The ranchera female sound is based in the contralto range, regardless of the full range and tessitura that they may or may not have developed. Operachi stays based in the contralto range, yet experiments with use of the middle and high female register, for a female to use their full range and not the bottom end, only, yet still stay within the contralto tessitura of the style. This can be done with a ranchera, for example a huapango, or a Classical song.

Juanita, for example, is a lyric soprano, but always sings her ranchera repertoire in a contralto range, and adds soprano high extensions beyond what most ranchera singers are willing to explore to date, working falsete breaks (falsetto) into the song. When singing Mexican art song or opera, she switches to her much higher soprano range, darker color, and more vibrato. This is her way of being true to the sound and style.

A trained operatic soprano who wants to sing mariachi songs will probably not feel comfortable singing in her contralto range, and might decide to sing her songs as an opera singer in her soprano range. She would then sound like an operatic soprano. A musical theater singer might get closer to the ranchera style if she is trained in healthy belt singing.

A female mariachi singer who wants to also sing Classical songs must train to open up her head voice and learn to blend it with her chest voice, to create as much strength with the top end as the bottom end, and sit their voice in a new tessitura, or specific vocal range. This opens up a new market for the singer with new songs that she can work on in both ranges. She can also benefit greatly from training in healthy belt voice production.

Why, some ask? Well, Classical and belt training actually strengthen the voice and can easily lengthen ones’ vocal career. With training one learns to work the vocal muscle that produces the low sound as much as the one that produces and stretches for a high sound. One of these muscles contracts as the other stretches and they balance each other. Working the full voice balances out the voice mechanism, whereas as pure low end singing tires out the voice over time and brings it lower with a wider vibrato.

Men use both ends of their range. Why not women? Additionally, female mariachi history tells us that singers such as Lucha Reyes and others have had remarkably short careers as compared to female singers in other fields. Checking the late recordings of Lucha Villa and Lola Beltrán will show evidence of a wider vibrato, strain and tuning issues, as compared to their early recordings. With proper training this can all be avoided.

Juanita has taken on Operachi for future female singers to seriously consider. She returned to operatic training in her early fifties in order to avoid the mistakes of her female counterparts and to expand her voice into Classical singing at the same time. She continues to sing regular rancheras and operatic repertoire and takes a serious stand for Mexican, Latin American and Spanish song as a whole.

Juanita has trained and developed prize winning national champion singers and finalists in various Latin American and mariachi vocal competitions, besides winning them herself. She features Operachi at the end of her Classical voice recitals and wins over her public, whether from Spain, Mexico, Peru, or the USA.

All musical traditions are in a state of constant evolution and change, and the mariachi field is no exception. Non-traditional instruments, such as keyboard, synthesizer and percussion are employed in some Mexico City mariachis, which Texans, who love mariachi as a symbol of cultural identity and tend to fear its changes, might consider it inauthentic or even a possible danger to the tradition. Additionally, many of the few voice teachers available to teach this tradition have traditionally been men, and it is a well-known fact in the vocal Classical world, that men tend to teach those of their own voice type better than they would a woman, and visa-versa. Hence, it is up to the women to take the reins and work on vocal technique and career longevity in a way that benefits them uniquely.

Why not employ something like Operachi which as a technique, can protect and strengthens the female voice? The singer can then choose how much of it they prefer to use in training only versus performance. If the tradition is truly of value, why not strive to improve, strengthen and lengthen it? Was not the addition of the trumpet into the all strings mariachi ensemble just as novel back in the late 1930’s-early 1940’s? Are not many of the top mariachi ensembles, the ones with the highest level, those with the most Classical training, from individual instrumentalists to the arrangements of Ruben Fuentes? The public loves it!

My fellow ranchera music lovers, Operachi is yet crystalizing, but is here to stay!

Juanita Ulloa, June, 2013

About Juanita

Singer, Juanita Ulloa (Juanita Martin Newland Ulloa) currently teaches voice as a Visiting Assistant Voice Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. She is also a PhD Candidate in Vocal Performance/Opera from the University of Northern Colorado where her secondary emphasis is Hispanic song literature and performance. Ms. Ulloa has pioneered vocal works from Mexico of both a ranchera mariachi as well as Classical nature on international stages in Spain, Mexico, Peru and the USA and is known for her crossover abilities as well as founding the Operachi singing style for women. She offers recitals, concerts, master classes and teaching.

Ms. Ulloa is American born and was raised in primarily in Mexico City, but also in Panama and Madrid, Spain. She has sung regional lyric mezzo-soprano roles with USA Northern California based opera companies: Pocket Opera, West Bay Opera, Berkeley Opera, Sacramento Opera, Mother Lode Musical Theater Company, Townsend Opera Players, Hayward Opera, Russian Opera Company of San Francisco, and more, prior to finding bigger national and international opportunities in Mexico, Spain and Peru as a solo concert specialist in more diverse styles. Her training with Dalton Baldwin at the Nice Conservatory in France gave her the courage to explore and highlight vocal music from the world’s twenty-four countries that speak Spanish.

She is a six -time winner of the Festival de la canción latinoamericana and has vocally trained finalists in the same competition along with Texas State University’s first solo national mariachi champion in the Mariachi Extravaganza competition. While Ms. Ulloa is devoted to sharing her exhaustive knowledge of Hispanic song literature (Spain and Latin America), she trains professional singers in standard classical and opera styles as well, including judges, consuls, voice-over artists and International TV and radio commentators.

Ms. Ulloa often represents the Mexican Consulate as a music ambassador in special events around the USA. As a result of her touring, Ms. Juanita Ulloa found a unique niche as the High Priestess of Operachi in with a trendsetting CD, Mujeres y mariachi, and subsequent concerts in Spain, Mexico and all over the USA. She has likewise been honored as an artist in a class of her own, along with Santana (Mark Halstern, Hispanic Magazine), and is a leading female singer of Mexican “Ranchera” song and other vocal folk styles. Finally, Ms. Ulloa champions the works of Mexican female composers, María Grever, Consuelo Velásquez and Ema Elena Valdelamar, the last of which was her personal mentor in Mexico D.F., as featured in her CD on Mexican Female bolero composers entitled, Mujeres.

Juanita Ulloa has delved into music for children composing, recording and producing five CDs and three songbooks of songs that promote bilingualism. Two of them feature the mariachi vocal style. Four of these CDs were winners of Parent’s Choice, National Association of Parents Products (NAPPA), and Parent’s Council awards. Her work in this arena led to performances in major arts centers with children’s programming including the San Francisco Symphony (AIMS), Young Audiences, Luther Burbank Center, San Mateo Arts Center, and Young Imaginations, among others.

Ms. Ulloa has been active in the Latin Pops arena as a soloist with the Stockton Symphony (CA) under the baton of Peter Jaffe, Pasadena Pops (CA), La Jolla Chamber Orchestra (CA), and Macon Symphony in Georgia, plus numerous mariachi ensembles, with favorites that she recorded with, Mariachi Voz de America (Mujeres y Mariachi CD) and Mariachi Campanas de America (Canta mi son! Disney Award winning CD). Ms. Ulloa has presented nationally at universities, with National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and each year with the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), along with workshops in Mexico City. Her presentations also include workshops, master classes in Hispanic Vocal Music Styles, Differences in Vocal Training of Classical versus Mariachi Female Singers, Accent Modification, and Vocal Power for Linguists and Interpreters. The singer is currently a PhD Candidate from the University of Northern Colorado. She holds previous music degrees from Yale University (BA, Music) and the University of California at Berkeley (MA, Music) and has significant post-graduate training from the Nice Conservatory in France, Cal State Hayward, San Francisco State University, and Cal State Humboldt in Arcata, CA. Ms. Ulloa previously taught at Texas State University, University of Texas (San Antonio), Northwest Vista Community College in San Antonio, and Austin Community College in Texas, as well as Laney College in Oakland, California, her private studio and the Community Music Center of San Francisco, California. She is Level III Trained in Commercial Contemporary Music with Jeannie Lovetri’s Somatic Voiceworks from Shenandoah Conservatory near Washington, D.C. Ms. Ulloa has benefited from vocal studies with John Nix, Ana María Ugarte, Dr. Melissa Malde, and is a devoted, life-long student of voice teacher, Jane Randolph of the San Francisco Conservatory.

In 2013 and 2014, Ms. Ulloa premiered new works for various contemporary composers, including Mexico City based Grammy winning composer, Dr. Gabriela Ortiz with Canciones de Agua, as well as Dr. Eric Alexander of Colorado with three song settings with poetry by Gabriela Mistral. Both events were premiered at the Open Space Festival of New Music. She also performed “Deux Extremities” by composer, Dr. Paul Elwood. Ms. Ulloa has sung Spanish zarzuela selections internationally, and more recently enjoyed singing the role of the Female Narrator from Walt Whitman’s Façade at the University of Northern Colorado. For recordings or more information, listen to her CDs on ITunes, or visit or


La cantante y cantautora Juanita Ulloa ha sido aclamada como la Excelsa sacerdotisa de Operachi en la revista por su exitoso CD “Mujeres y Mariachi”. Al mismo tiempo ha sido considerada como “una artista con un estilo muy personal” junto con Santana (Mark Halstern, Hispanic Magazine) y es una de las primeras cantantes mejicanas de “rancheras” que ha sabido combinar este género con la interpretación y enseñanza de la canción clásica española y latinoamericana. A la vez funge de profesora vocal en la Unviersidad de Texas de El Paso and Texas para inspirar a futuros alumnos con las bellezas del repertorio altinoamericano.

Juanita Ulloa funge de Profesora de interpretación vocal (“Visiting Assistant Professor of Voice”) en la Univrsidad del Texas en El Paso, Texas de los EEUU. Ha estudiado en las prestigiosas Universidades de Yale (BA, Music) y Berkeley (MA, Music), realizando estudios de posgrado en el Conservatorio de Niza (Francia) Cal State Hayward, San Francisco State University y Cal State Humboldt. En mayo del año 2016 se le otorgará título de doctorado en la interpretación vocal y ópera de la Universidad del norte de Colorado. Ha dado numerosos recitales en Madrid, Barcelona y Granada. También ha participado como solista de música popular latinoamericana y mariachi en Estados Unidos, Méjico y Europa.Ha escrito tres libros de canciones y editado siete CDs que han sido distribuidos por New Sound Music (Allegro Corporation). Ulloa ha participado igualmente en papeles operísticos de Northern California con Pocket Opera, West Bay Opera, Berkeley Opera, Sacramento Opera, y Mother Lode Musical Theater Company, entre otros. Trabaja igualmente con papeles de voz en off y como autora ha realizado contratos y grabaciones con importantes editores y entidades como Bank of America, Reader Rabbitt, Mailboxes, MacMillan/McGraw-Hill, Scholastic Books y Silver, Burdett, Ginn (Pearson Music).

Juanita Ulloa ha enseñado en las Facultades de la Universidad Estatal de Texas, La Universidad de Texas de San Antonio (acompañante) y Northwest Vista Community College. Actualmente está realizando sus estudios de doctorado en interpretación vocal en la Universidad del Norte de Colorado con la doctora Melissa Malde. Ulloa interpreta tanto repertorio de mariachi como repertorio sinfónico con orquestas como la Stockton Symphony (CA) bajo la dirección de Peter Jaffe, Pasadena Pops (CA), La Jolla Chamber Orchestra (CA), y Macon Symphony (GA)), además de numerosos ensembles de mariachi en Mexico y USA, con su repertorio favorito: Mariachi Voz de America (Mujeres y Mariachi CD) and Mariachi Campanas de America (Canta mi son! CD).

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