‘María de Buenos Aires’ offers passionate opera and sultry Argentine tango

Soprano Catalina Cuervo // Photo by Dan Norman

From its sultry setting in a Buenos Aires barrio to its score brimming with expressive tango, “María de Buenos Aires” is not your typical opera, and the Mill City Summer Opera is not your typical opera company.

Rather than staging its sixth annual opera production on a classic proscenium stage positioning the audience directly in front of the action, the Mill City Summer Opera (MCSO) gave “María de Buenos Aires” the 360-degree treatment, with the audience encircled around a center stage offering a different view for each person who attends.

The unique staging layout coincides with the organization’s temporary shift in venue to the Machine Shop on the other side of the Stone Arch Bridge, says artistic director David Lefkowich. “The field trip to the Machine Shop gave us a terrific opportunity to change things up a bit,” he says. “We had to think about the opera and the experience of the audience in an entirely new way.”

Audience members are encircled around a center stage, offering a different view for each person who attends at the Machine Shop // Photo by Dan Norman

Restoration at the Ruin Courtyard at the Mill City Museum, which is MCSO’s usual venue, drove the leaders to look for an equally non-traditional location to host its production for the time being. “It is a more intimate setting, which was especially critical in the sensuality and experience of this opera,” Lefkowich says. “This opera brings the heat we all miss by being inside this season.”

Having long considered performing the sensual “María de Buenos Aires,” MCSO turns it into an event that is just as much a celebration of Argentine tango culture as it is opera performance. Attendees who arrive an hour before showtime are invited to take a tango dance lesson with dancers from the show, and the party continues after the show with more dancing. Add in the operatic performances by Catalina Cuervo, Luis Alejandro Orozco, and Milton Loayza to Fernanda Ghi’s choreography and JP Jofre’s talent on the Argentine bandoneon, a cross between an accordion and a concertina, and you have a world-class tango event transporting the audience to another time and place. “Mill City Summer Opera is more than just an opera company,” Lefkowich says. “We are about creating an operatic experience for our patrons.”

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Managing to be both intimate and grand, the setting begets a memorable show that weaves song and dance, love and passion. The opera is performed entirely in Spanish, and although interested audience members can follow along with English subtitles on various screens, that is almost unnecessary because of the storytelling power of composer Astor Piazzolla’s thrilling and emotion-packed music. Nor will the audience want to take their eyes off of the dazzling dancers, atmospheric tango lounge scenery, and lively musicians on stage-level. The opera’s plot is relatively easy to follow and comes secondary to the exceptional musical talent onstage and in the orchestra pit.

“This is an unforgettable experience and the steamiest night in Minneapolis you can find,” says Lefkowich. “The tango is a dance of the embrace and the experience, so come for the sultry music, the incredible poetry, the brilliance of the performers, and an opportunity to experience opera in a whole new way.”

Limited rush tickets ($35, main level) for the July 18, 19 and 20 performances of “María de Buenos Aires” are available. These tickets go fast, so you’ll need to arrive and line up at least an hour before doors open (that’s around 6pm, doors at 7pm) to have a chance at them. If you’re a student, show your I.D. and your rush ticket is specially priced at just $10 with standing balcony views.