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Florida Grand Opera Gets Sexy and Sweaty at The Stage

Catalina Cuervo and Jeremias Masseda - Maria de Buenos Aires
Catalina Cuervo and Jeremias Masseda - Maria de Buenos Aires
Photo by Alejandra Serna for FGO

Sexy. Seductive. Sweaty. These are three S's not typically associated with opera, the favorite pastime of the monied elderly. But times have changed, and this ain't your grandma's opera anymore.

On second thought, judging by the audience at last night's Tango double-bill at The Stage, maybe it still is your grandma's opera -- but that's only because the younger generations haven't caught on yet. They will. Especially if the Florida Grand Opera (FGO) keeps bringing sexy back like they did with last night's performance.

See also:

- Florida Grand Opera to Debut New Series at The Stage: "We Don't Know What's Going to Happen"

- Florida Grand Opera Returns to Wynwood's Second Saturday Art Walk

As part of its Unexpected Operas in Unexpected Places series, the FGO is performing a double bill at the popular local venue all weekend. Last night, audiences were treated to Robert Xavier Rodriguez's Tango and Ástor Piazzolla's María de Buenos Aires, under the stage direction of Jose Maria Condemi.

Despite the unusual locale, the crowd was still traditionally opera-esque, favoring the older set. But there was a healthy mix of young and hip scattered throughout -- and undoubtedly, more and more will make their way to shows like these when they discover the epic experience they're missing.

The night kicked off with a pre-show, where a couple of heavily made-up crooners with flowers in their hair and sexy satin dresses belted out impressive vocals from a back corner.

First on the bill, Tango, a mesmerizing ode to the famous Latin dance. It featured a narrator reading real-life headlines from the early 20th century in impressively convincing accents (Matthew Newlin); a crucifiction (so to speak) of a Catholic Cardinal; and some fancy footwork by a pair of awe-inspiring Argentinian tango experts (Jeremias Massera and Mariela Barufaldi). It was energetic, amusing and basically skewered the Catholic church.

Matthew Newlin - Tango
Matthew Newlin - Tango
Photo by Alejandra Serna for FGO

The venue itself was set up as a theater in the round, meaning, performances happened all over the place. Sometimes, that made it hard to see what was transpiring in one corner or another, but at others, it meant the action was happening just inches from your face. Part of the magic of theaters in the round is that it's impossible to see everything, so some of the naunces and sub-plots can be saved for a second viewing.

In the audience was Xavier Rodriguez himself, who took a bow during the credits and appeared rightfully proud of the FGO's rendition of his work.

Next up, María de Buenos Aires,a highly stylized, metaphorical telling of the story of the tango. Starring a stunning soprano in a scarlet satin dress and stilettos (Catalina Cuervo), the performance was dramatic and highly sensual. From her belted out protestations of pain to the ancillary cast's spot on choreography, it was incredibly intense. And sexual. But in an abstract, off-putting way.

Sweat glistened off the foreheads and breastbones of everyone on stage, but their heavy breathing, rumpled clothing and disheveled hair only made it that much more like a steamy evening in Argentina (or so I'd imagine).

Cynthia Cook, Catalina Cuervo, Carla Jablonski, Hye Jung Lee, Rebecca Herndandez, and Lacy Sauter - Maria de Buenos Aires
Cynthia Cook, Catalina Cuervo, Carla Jablonski, Hye Jung Lee, Rebecca Herndandez, and Lacy Sauter - Maria de Buenos Aires
Photo by Alejandra Serna for FGO

Through and through, every team member seemed immersed in his respective role - even when audience members occasionally wandered through the middle of an active scene. There were no awkward moments or out-of-character actions (even when there were minor technical difficulties during the second show). In the back corner, the FGO's young conductor, Ramon Tebar, waved his orchestra on with enthusiasm, beaming with pride throughout the show.

This was an evening far removed from a Miami bar. Instead, the sultry moves of the cast, the open-air atmosphere and exposed brick walls of The Stage and the dramatic orchestrations of the musicians made it feel like a bit of Buenos Aires.

So forget your pre-conceived notions about the opera. And once you've shed all silly assumptions, score a ticket to Unexpected Operas in Unexpected Places. The experience lives up to its name in spades: unexpected indeed. And unforgettable.

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