A Latino style of music has returned to popularity when it was the rage in the early 20th century. Cinema star Rudolph Valentino swept the nation in his gaucho pants doing the tango and creating a new dance style.

It is a different rhythm and sound from flamingo. Tango can be danced by a couple. But how is it applied to opera?

“Maria de Buenos Aires” is a surrealist Spanish-language opera dealing with gritty street life of Argentina’s capital where tango dancing is a way of life. The unusual cast consists of a spoken-word chorus, two singers, two tango dancers and an on-stage orchestra featuring a concertina for the unique Argentine sound.

Composed by Argentine Astor Piazzolla for a 1968 premiere, “Maria” was an early success in the classical repertory for the creator of Nuevo Tango, a style mixing jazz with new rhythm to the classic tango of the streets. Piazzolla’s early concert pieces caused riots in the audience similar to those rejecting early works by Stravinsky who was Piazzoila’s teacher.

The libretto by surrealist poet Horacio Ferrer is often difficult to relate to the story line of a fallen woman abused by the Argentine street people. She crossed a boundary into a world of illusion. The SDO production uses a voice coach to use the Buenos Aires nasal dialect for authentic.

Tango is an old form of rhythm and style adapted from the Congo to create a new dance style by the late 19th century by citizens of Argentina and Uruguay from Andalusia. It became the fashionable dance in Paris and a show piece for cinema and stage celebrates.

The streets of Buenos Aires filled with dancers picking up loose change from by passerbyers. The unique sound was enhanced by the bandoneon, a form of concertina that will be performed in the SDO production by a famous musician.

The Detour Series chamber opera is performed at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza. Audrey Babcock makes her SDO debut as Maria with Paul La Rosa returning as El Payador. Mezzo soprano Babcock is a popular Carmen with several regional companies and in France.

The four performances on January 26, 27 and 28 are sold out, Call the opera office at 619 533 7000 for ticket resales.


Ford is a past president of San Diego Opera and supports the opera archive at San Diego State University