Review: Eugene Opera’s ‘Maria’ a tour de force of musical, artistic and athletic showmanship
By Alison Kaufman For The Register-Guard
Posted May 5, 2018 at 5:13 PM
The sold-out Friday audience was treated to magnificent singing, fantastic tango dancing and charismatic music
Friday evening, Eugene Opera presented Ástor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires” at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater. This tango operetta is a bold new step for Eugene Opera, and a nice counterpoint to their production of “The Barber of Seville” earlier this season.
“Maria de Buenos Aires” challenges many assumptions of what an opera is supposed to sound like as it features as much spoken delivery as sung, has only two singing roles, features instruments more common to an orquesta típica than an operatic orchestral pit, and has an unclear plot.
This production also included unusual elements, the most noticeable being the amplification of the singers. Normally, this reviewer takes offense at adding microphones to opera singers, but with the challenging acoustics of Soreng Theater as well as the general mix of popular and classical genres inherent within the work, the technological addition worked and was generally appreciated.
The singers themselves were magnificent. Soprano Catalina Cuervo has become the primary interpreter of the title role, and it is no wonder why. Cuervo’s sensual and engaging characterization of the tragic Maria joined with her stunning vocal capacity to sing ranges usually intended for contraltos into one of the most captivating performances that Eugene Opera has ever presented.
Baritone Paul La Rosa’s bodacious voice and commanding personality perfectly complemented the energetic and competitive role of the Payador. It was at times difficult to determine the exact relationship between the Payador and Maria, but the tension was palpable and intriguing.
Actor Milton Loayza portrayed the Duende, a spoken role, with fire and a fantastic flair for the dramatic. His enthusiastically delivered the vivid and mysterious poetry of librettist Horacio Ferrer, at times with large gestures and at others with a contained intensity.
Of equal importance to the three named characters, however, were the fantastic tango dancers. The two lead dancers were Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo who are world-class tango competitors and choreographers. The dancing for this performance was choreographed by Ghi, and it was inventive and new while still maintaining enough classic tango to fit with the 1960s aesthetic of the opera’s setting.
Ghi and Merlo were joined by local tango and ballet dancers Marisela Rizik, Deanna Murphy, Jim Ballard and Gustavo Ramirez. The ensemble numbers, particularly when interacting with the sung and spoken characters, were masterful in their construction and presentation as they were beautiful, sexy and intriguing while not distracting from the main action.
The orchestra, led by Artistic Director, Conductor and pianist Andrew Bisantz, was as powerful an actor as any who sang, recited or danced. Bandoneón player Ben Thomas was charismatic as he interacted with the performers on stage while realizing the difficult parts written by Piazzolla, one of the great Bandoneón composers. The solos played by guitarist Cameron O’Connor, violinist Matt Fuller, and flautist Jill Pauls also were stunning and emotive.
Overall, the performance was a tour de force of musical, artistic and athletic showmanship and gave the appreciative, sold-out Eugene audience a hearty appetite for Eugene Opera’s 2018-2019 season.
Musicologist and soprano Alison Kaufman reviews classical performances for the Register-Guard.