by Melanie Wong
On Friday night, Opera Hispánica presented Ástor Piazzolla’s tango-opera, María de Buenos Aires, at (le) Poisson Rouge, the culmination of the pioneer Latino opera comapny's first festival season. With a goal of showcasing Hispanic and Latino composers and compositions, the fledgling group certainly hit their mark, and the packed house was inevitably left wanting more.
The 75-minute opera tells the tale of a girl named María, “every woman and no woman...a shadow and a saint.” She is conjured by two spirits, El Duende (the wicked ghost-poet) and El Payador (the tender country-poet), who sing her story to the audience. Unfortunately, Horacio Ferrer’s poetic libretto, while beautifully written, was difficult to follow; the subtitles were over-simplified and changed too quickly, before their meaning could be fully grasped.
Solange Merdinian performed as María with a beautifully deep and sultry voice, a perfect fit for the role. The highlight of the show, however, was baritone Marcelo Guzzo, who played the role of El Payador, singing with such fervor that you couldn't help but listen intently. On the other hand, Gerardo Gudiño's otherwise-convincing performance as El Duende was marred by the fact that he read all of his lines and lyrics out of a notebook.
The stage was minimally set which, while understandable for the size of the venue, made it difficult to follow the storyline through the streets, sewers, bars, brothels, and alleyways of Buenos Aires depicted in the opera. The three dancers did a fine job, given the tiny space with which they had to work—their many lifts were executed superbly, successfully expressing their intended religious symbolism. However, in a tango-opera, one would hope to see a bit more tango in the choreography.
Maestro Jorge Parodi, a New York-based Argentinean conductor, led the orchestra with style and energy. The orchestra performed relatively well throughout, with some notable performances by the flute and violin players. However it was the bandoneón player, JP Jofre, who stole the show with technical virtuosity matching his innate musicality.
Opera Hispánica will perform María de Buenos Aires once more Sunday night at 7:30PM.