Scenes of Modesty and Frivolity

Museo del Estanquillo

“Tiples” (high-pitched singers) in the collections of Carlos Monsiváis

Icons of an era
The "tiples" (high-pitched singers) were singers and actresses who stood out in Mexican theater at the beginning of the 20th century in Mexico. They performed comedy sketches in theaters, similar to the cabaret, and sang some of the most difficult musical notes with their high-pitched voices. Most of them conquered not only the best stages in Latin America, but also the cinema industry in the United States.
Scenes of Modesty and Frivolity
Such were these women that duels were fought over them and lines formed hour after hour at theater doors to see them. This young man, appearing so studiously engrossed in professor Antonio Caso’s sociology course, was actually reading these cards, which were passed around the classrooms of the “Escuela Preparatoria” school and offices of the Ministry of Development.

These eyes, arms, and lips led the government to close down the theaters for being immoral, only for their admirers to club together to pay the fine so that the theatrical performances could continue. Some women were famed for their beauty, some for their ability to reduce an audience to tears with their dramatic art, and others for the style in which they sang “cuplés” (short theatre songs).

Looking at these cards, we can see that the souls of our ancestors were not entirely devoid of color, but were instead tinted with pastel shades: they were happy, if somewhat naive.

Monsiváis extracted meaning from these images, as well as interpretations, attitudes, and the ideology of an era. He saw that these women represented the beginning of female emancipation: goddesses of a religion that nobody would bother to invent.

These photos show the pictures disseminated by theaters and in the movies, with a female image entirely removed from that of a real woman. This abstraction helped to consolidate the role of women as objects to be paid for, whose mission was to provide and incite the pleasure of arousal.

Mimí Derba (1893-1953)
She was born in Mexico City. Besides being an actress and singer, she was a screenwriter, producer and the first female cinema director in Mexico.

La tigresa was directed by her, along with Enrique Rosas, with whom he had a film production company that had to close in 1919.

Mimí Derba, Mimí Derba: three parts Aphrodite and one part Minerva…

In the classic Mexican movie "El baisano Jalil" (Jalil the Peasant), Mimí Derba plays Carmen Rivera de Veradada.

María Conesa (1892-1976)
She was born in Vinaroz, Spain, although her career as a comic, actress and vedette developed in Mexican theater, cinema and television.

The poet Luis G. Urbina went to see María Conesa in the theater and wrote that, from her mouth, “even Our Father would be an affront to decency.”

She was also known as the "Gatita Blanca" (White Kitten).

María Tereza Montoya (1900-1970)
The actress and theatrical entrepreneur was born in the Historic Center of Mexico City. She was surrounded by talent in her family, being the daughter of actor José Felipe Agustín Montoya Alarcón, and Dolores Pardavé Bernal, who was a tiple of zarzuela and operetta.

She changed the "s" in her name, Teresa, to a "z" for her stage name. She made her debut as an actress in 1919 on the film The Gray Car and participated in the staging of The Suspicious Truth in 1934 to inaugurate the Palace of Fine Arts.

Celia Montalván (1899-1958)
Born in Mexico City in 1899, Celia Montalván was a renowned actress, vedette and comic tiple who worked in the Mexican cinema and magazine theater.

The photos of Celia Montalván, which deliberately complemented those of her closest rivals, were a staple material for a small fan base that expressed a broad change in sensitivities, in its own mesmerized way.

Esperanza Iris (1888 - 1962)
The Mexican operetta diva and the zarzuela (comic Spanish operetta), Rosalía de la Esperanza Bofill and Ferrer, known artistically as Esperanza Iris, was born in the city of Villahermosa, Tabasco, in March 1884.

At the age of 15 she founded her first zarzuela company with Cuban actor Miguel Gutierrez. Before turning 25, it was very popular throughout Latin America. Her company, known as Iris-Gutierrez, was later named the Viennese Operetta Company.

She opened her own theater on May 25th, 1918, which is still open in Mexico City and takes the name of Theater of the City Esperanza Iris.

Lupe Rivas Cacho (1899-1975)
Theaters and Mexican cinema were the stage for the actress, vedette, comedian and comic tiple Lupe Rivas Cacho to develop her talent.

She was known as “La Pingüica” thanks to her small stature, and was Mimí Derba’s stage rival.

Lupe Vélez (1908-1944)
The actress, dancer and vedette was born in San Luis Potosí. Her career began in the theater, before going to the United States in 1927 to search for new opportunities in Hollywood.

She soon participated in comedy films under the direction of filmmakers such as D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, Victor Fleming and William Wyler, among others.

She even starred alongside Laurel and Hardy.

Virginia Fábregas (1871-1950)
The renowned actress was born in San Luis Potosí. Her vocation as an actress led her to found her own theater company and years later she built her own property to accommodate her artistic creation.

She was known as "the Mexican Sarah Bernhardt."

A fantasy
A vedette, or showgirl, is by her very nature a public woman. To prevent degrading connotations of that expression, the singer must fully adopt the persona, live out the fantasies of the audience both photographically and on stage, and invite them to accompany her on a journey of insinuation and gestures.
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