September, for me, has always felt like the first month of the year. In our formative years, it’s the month when school begins, which signals many things new: classes, clothes, shoes, school books, and Sfriends. September’s also the month for new activities and variations played on tried-and-true themes. And we begin to plan for the holidays ahead.
The most important holiday of the year In Mexico, September is the month we celebrate the most important event in our history: Independence. (No, the biggest celebration here is not Cinco de Mayo as many US visitors believe; that holiday marks only a minor victory for Mexico. Essentially, we won the battle but lost the war.)
Independence celebrations abound in the Zocalo, where at 11 pm (sí, en punto) on September 15 the president gives the Grito (shout) for Independence. The crowd chimes in, and music follows. There’s also a major celebration held at the statue of Independencia, or the Angel as it’s affectionately called here. There, starting around 9 pm, music begins, usually presented by the top popular Mexican singers and groups. Avenue Reforma streams with people young and old. The event is free, as are many activities in the city.
The actual Día de Independencia is September 16. On that day, in addition to recovering from the celebrations of the night before, there’s a military parade from the Zocalo, continuing down Reforma to Los Pinos, home of the president.
Another significantly festive, colorful, and loud celebration is held in San Miguel de Allende (three and a half hours northwest of DF). In fact, the last two weeks of September is party time in San Miguel since we celebrate San Miguel Day on September 29. The local weekly paper Atención diligently lists all activities for those weeks. There are parades and fireworks galore. The neighboring towns of Queretaro and Dolores Hidalgo were crucial in the struggle for Mexico’s Independence from Spain. Each of those towns is just a half hour from San Miguel. It can be a fairytale two-week vacation.
On the cultural scene, autumn represents opening seasons of theater, opera, and films (yes, the summer children’s movies are finally over!).
Throughout the world now, and specifically here in Mexico City and Oaxaca City, opera lovers look forward to the transmissions from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Here in Mexico City they’re offered at the Auditorio Nacional and various Cinépolis Theaters. In Oaxaca City, they’re shown at the Teatro Macedonio Acála. Other venues in Mexico where the transmissions can be seen: Cuernavaca, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Leon, Cancun, and Oaxaca, among others.
The premiere of the 2015- 2016 season October 3 will be Verdi’s El Trovador and stars two of opera’s greats: Ana Netrebkov and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. This is followed by Otelo (also a Verdi favorite) on October 17, Tannhäuser (Wagne r ‘ s fi v e -hour masterpiece) on October 31, and the modern Berg opera Lulu on November 21. This is followed by a two-month break until The Pearl Fishers by Bizet, on January 16.
Another transmission series that’s a must for theater buffs is the one from the National Theater of London. This is some of the finest theater offered in the world. In Mexico City, you can see the transmissions at the Lunario behind the Auditorio Nacional, as well as at the Cultural Center of the UNAM (the prestigious city university). The Lunario performances take place on Sunday at 6 pm and again Monday night at 8 pm. At the university, the plays are shown at noon on Saturdays.
This fall’s offerings are among the best ever. Starting September 6 (and again on Monday, September 7), the fall season opens with Behind the Beautiful Forevers. You might remember this in book form as the account of Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo’s experiences in Mumbai’s slum adjacent to the airport hotel of the wealthy. On October 4 and 5, Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) plays the title role in the 15 century drama Everyman. November 8 and 9 will be the rollicking (no exaggeration) Restoration Comedy The Beaux Strategem (one of the many comedies written and performed from 1660 to 1710, referring to the restoration of the monarchy in England). These plays are among my favorites.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Mexico City on January 16, 17, or 18, plan now to experience Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant performance as Hamlet. People came from all over the world to see his performance live in London. Now we have the privilege of seeing it here, and at a fraction of the price. This is one of the bonuses to these transmissions, both opera and theater.
Ticket prices vary among cities in Mexico, but you’ll be hard pressed to pay more than 25 dollars for any single ticket, and you’ll more often pay well under that. Both the Met Opera and the National Theater of London provide subtitles in Spanish.