Florida Grand Opera has announced a new three-year program of "Unexpected Operas In Unexpected Places" which is dedicated to bringing lesser-known operatic works to unique and unusual venues throughout South Florida. The double bill of "Tango" and "Maria de Buenos Aries" presented at the Miami club, The Stage, kicks off the program with great success.
The evening’s program was presented in the ’round’ with the action taking place on two stages in the bar as well as among the audience members.
"Tango" is a relatively new work written in 1985 by Dallas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez. It features a tenor soloist who both speaks and sings accompanied by a small ensemble. The story is the birth and development of the tango dance and its initial scandalous reception. Told through the voice of a radio announcer and a Catholic priest, it is a humorous piece that is both delightful and challenging.
"Maria de Buenos Aires" is a tango opera by Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla. Composed in 1968, this surrealist piece tells the story of a prostitute, Maria, in Buenos Aries and her death and eternal re-birth. With parallels between Maria and both the Virgin Mary and Jesus, this opera has a strange and often bizarre plot line, but is ultimately a very satisfying piece that musically evokes the spirit of Argentina.
The leading role of "Tango" was superbly handled by Matthew Newlin. Newlin is the current Young Patronesses of the Opera Young Artist in FGO’s Young Artist program and he has a supple and distinctive light tenor voice. He is charming with a large amount of charisma and stage presence and deftly handled all of the different characters he was asked to assume in this 30 minute opera.
"Maria de Buenos Aries" featured the sultry voiced tango singer, Catalina Cuervo, in the title role supported by baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco and actor Luis Sosa. Cuervo’s voice, in this production, was not operatic at all but rather a throaty and sensual voice that sounded as if it could go from a caress to a slap in no time. Orozco’s beautiful baritone voice was a delightful contrast to Cuervo’s more pop oriented sound.
Both productions feature choreography and dancing by Jeremias Massera and Mariela Barufaldi. Massera and Barufaldi, both Argentinian, have been dancing the tango together since 2007 and their mastery of the art was apparent from the moment they stepped out onto the stage. Their dancing embodied the sexuality and beauty of the tango throughout the performance. There were moments when they nearly stole the show away from the singers.
The extra roles in "Maria de Buenos Aries" were filled by the members of FGO’s Young Artists program, and while it is unfortunate that these fine young singers weren’t able to sing during the performance, they demonstrated their acting abilities very well. As prostitutes and bar patrons, Cynthia Cook, Carla Jablonsi, Rebecca Henriques, Adam Lau, Hye Jung Lee, Matthew Manes, Ryan Milstead, Matthew Newlin and Lucy Sauter added emotional and dramatic moments throughout the 45-minute long opera.
Camilla Haith’s costumes for this performance were outstanding. She managed to make every participant look his or her best and her costumes for these two shows were elegant and tawdry at the same time. All of the women were lovely to look at, but her gowns were particularly lovely on Lucy Sauter and Cynthia Cook who are beautiful women as well as first class singers. Matthew Newlin, Adam Lau and Ryan Milstead are also just as attractive to watch as to listen and Haith’s costumes were just as flattering on the men as on the women.
Lighting designer Heather Sparling had a series of challenges lighting this show in such an unusual venue, but she handled them flawlessly. The show was consistently well lit and Sparling frequently used very intense reds and oranges, which helped to enhance the Argentinian flavor of the pieces.
The experience of seeing these two tango operas presented in the middle of a Miami nightclub was exciting and ultimately very satisfying. Florida Grand Opera is working hard to bring opera to unusual places and to attract new audiences to the opera and they are admirably succeeding at both goals.