Maria De Buenos Aires goes against most defining characteristics of Opera, it is short at 95 minutes, its libretto contains many spoken parts in long poetic prose, it relies heavily on dance, and it is in Spanish (most Operas are in French, German or Italian). But it also dives deep into the strength of Opera, using music as a way to communicate large emotions that drive the story, but in the case of Maria De Buenos Aires the music also serves as a backdrop, transporting us to where the story takes place. It is able to do this because the music of Maria De Buenos Aires is unlike the music of classical operas, it is the music of Argentinian Tango. The sound is lush and romantic, but also passionate and desperate. Conductor Brian DeMaris leads an 11 piece orchestra, containing the brilliant Bandoneon player JP Jofre in Astor Piazzolla's lucious score that truly transports the Machine Shop in Northeast Minneapolis into the slums of Buenos Aires.
The story itself is surreal, feeling dream like at many points. The synopsis given in the program reads, "In the slums of Buenos Aires, there lived a girl named Maria. People say Maria was "born on a day when God was drunk...with a curse in her voice." Traveling to the city she is seduced by an underworld moving to the passionate beat of the Argentine tango. In a dangerous waterfront bar she becomes consumed by the fiery dance. Seedy characters plan her death, but her shadow returns, condemned to haunt the street of Buenos Aires." I did not follow this entire plot arch, although the general feel of seduction and haunting were very apparent. As I mentioned the show is in Spanish, and translations are projected on to screens on the corners of the stage, but it was hard to choose between reading the translation and paying attention to the action taking place onstage, often times I chose the latter. There are multiple approaches that can be taken in seeing any Opera. You can research the plot and story ahead of time to help follow the story while seeing the show, or you can just give yourself up the the story. For Maria De Buenos Aires I recommend the second approach, allow yourself to be taken in by the surreal and dream like story, surrounded by the music, entranced by the dancing and enjoy the trip Buenos Aires.
Mill City Summer Opera has assembled an all star cast for the for their summer production. The three cast members that sing are all from out of town. Catalina Cuervo who plays Maria in this production, and has also played the role Maria more times than any other performer, joins us from Medellin Colombia. Her experience in the role of Maria is apparent, she embraces the score with a rich and deep voice. Luis Alejandro Orozco from El Paso Texas plays Payador, his Baritone is so rich and full that often times I was surprised that it was coming such a young performer. Milton Loaysa from Neuquen, Argentina plays El Duende, he passionately takes on the poetic passages, and made me fall in love with the beauty of the Spanish language. Although the main cast is all from out of town the ensemble is filled with talented local dancers, who combined with the music of the tango complete the transporting feel of the show.
Maria De Buenos Aires has only 4 performances left, closing on July 20th. I believe the entire run is sold out but if you can I recommend going over to the Machine Shop and experiencing opera like you have never seen it before.
*Photos by Dan Norman