MEXICO CITY (AP) — Three young women surround a muscular, shirtless man, laughing, hugging and caressing his neck as he rocks his head back in pleasure.
A dozen musicians pound out a furious rhythm with pre-Columbian traditional wooden drums, rattles and flutes. Above the stage, a screen translates their flirtatious song into Spanish from the original Nahuatl language.
"Xochicuicatl cuecuechtli," which premieres Saturday in the Mexican capital, is a fusion of artistic traditions from ancient Mexico. While it's not the first opera to be composed in an indigenous tongue, it is the first contemporary one created for an orchestra of pre-Hispanic instruments.
The fruit of 10 years of labor by Mexican musicologist Gabriel Pareyon, the work is based on "Xochicuicatl," a song of the Mexica people with erotic overtones that was compiled by a Spanish priest in the 16th century with the help of indigenous scribes.
"'Xochicuicatl cuecuechtli' is a musical, poetic, dance, instrumental and philosophical show that reflects the symbolic richness of pre-Columbian Mexico, neither an archaeological nor a historic reconstruction but rather a completely new work that originates from an ancient text," Pareyon told The Associated Press.
The Nahuatl title translates roughly as "flowery song of mischief," and references sex as an analogy of life: intense, spirited and fleeting.
The opera tells the story of Tohuenyo, an attractive young rogue who tries to seduce the "ahuianimeh" — the Nahuatl word for women who entertained Mexica warriors before they went to battle.
"The 'ahuianimeh' were not considered prostitutes, at least not as we understand the term in the Western world," Pareyon said. "They fulfilled a role in the social elite of the Mexica world as dance companions and to give pleasure to the Aztec warriors."
After an erotic game the "entertainers" abandon Tohuenyo, much to his despair. He later receives an offering from the "prince of flowers," Xochipilli, who in ancient mythology represents the god of love, games, beauty and pleasure.
Pareyon said he chose this particular story as a base for the opera because it was one of just two "cuecuechcuicatl," or rakish songs, to escape censorship by the Spanish evangelizers.
"This genre above all was considered lewd," he said, "since at that time they said it was improper for its notorious sexual expressiveness."