Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Justin Namon
Two giants of twentieth-century opera launching a new star for the 21st: That is just part of what happened in this new production that celebrated — and made — Miami music history. The first collaboration between the great Renata Scotto and Richard Bonynge, this local staging of Bellini's La Sonnambula was a demanding and gorgeous romantic opera. Starring Miami's favorite young diva, Leah Partridge, in a role she seemed born to sing, La Sonnambula was opera heaven, a thrilling and impossibly beautiful show for newcomers and jaded operamaniacs alike. One of the sweetest things about it was that, like the the American Ballet Theatre's Swan Lake, the opera was the kind of production that could not have happened in Miami before the Carnival Center's opening. The Florida Grand Opera, one of the prime movers behind getting the center built in the first place, deserves this new Ziff Opera House, with its ideal acoustics and against-all-odds intimate atmosphere. What's the big deal about operaç The Florida Grand Opera, when it is this good, is a good answer.
New York's Susanne Bartsch is not your run-of-the-mill party promoter. Who else would conceive, let alone execute, a plan in which America's most infamous transsexual, Amanda Lepore, perches naked in a bubble bath in the middle of a crowded dance floor (at the swanky Setai, nonetheless, notorious for charging more than $40 for a plate of pad Thai). Bartsch's name is so synonymous with sensational extravagance that A-list hipsters stand obediently in line at her events. Perhaps it's the ambience — equal parts Alice In Wonderland, Quentin Tarantino-inspired porno, and Cirque du Soleil on acid. Or maybe it's the outlandish decorations — think giant dinosaurs for a scenic backdrop and makeshift stages painted the colors of the rainbow inhabited by gyrating midgets and dancing monsters seemingly ripped from the pages of a Star Trek script. Or maybe they show up en masse for the free-flowing booze, compliments of Ms. Bartsch; the soundtrack of sultry hypnotic trance spun by famed DJs; or the chance to mingle with the it boys and girls of the moment. But whenever and wherever her eclectic party is held, the queen puts a little something together and it's always a shocking success. And it always seems to outdo the last.
Every once in a while since this past Independence Day, an Amazonian goddess runs from the beach to the steps of the Palace Bar & Grill at 1200 Ocean Dr., a sparkly gold tiara holding up her flowing black mane. She dials in her invisible plane from a pay phone on the street, whips around her golden lasso to rope off evildoers, and uses her Athenian might to push automobiles out of her way. Honey, Linda Carter has nothing on this Wonder Woman, the Argentine chanteuse Geraldine. The spectacle attracts gawkers — straight and gay, young and old — enchanted by Geraldine's campy performance of DC Comics's most popular female superhero. "Who is more American than Wonder Womanç" Geraldine rhapsodizes. "When I did it the first time people loved it so much I kept doing it. But I try not to do it that often because then it gets boring." Spoken like a true Brodway superstar.And perhaps being Wonder Woman is a subconscious way of channeling her coming-out journey in Miami, where she first publicly showcased her cross-dressing talents upon arriving five years ago. "In Argentina I was still in the closet," Geraldine remembers. "When my family would leave the house and I'd be by myself, I would get dressed up. I would look at myself in the mirror and cry for a long time. Here I bloomed."Of course Wonder Woman is only one part of Geraldine's creative ensemble. On Monday nights, you can catch Geraldine, Fernandcute, and Juicy P performing a show at Laundry Bar (721 N. Lincoln Ln., Miami Beach). The Argentine-born performers dub themselves the Queen Cabaret. "Once a month we do a big production," Geraldine says. "Two weeks ago we did Marie Antoinette, including her beheading.... I love entertaining and making people laugh. I like to make fun of myself."
For most of the participants in the annual King Mango Strut, the costume and/or performance is a decision made in a beer-induced flight of fancy. We suspect that beer had quite a bit to do with the performance by Justin Steak-N-Shake and the Chubbettes. The bellies don't lie. This group of gleeful fat dudes was conceived for last year's Strut as a pointed lampoon of the hit song du jour, Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack." Relying on their obvious sight gag (hello, overflowing guts and man boobs), the group cranked things up a notch by performing "Bringing Chubby Back" with one of the members painted in UM orange and green. Go Canes! (You can see the live performance video here: www.youtube.com/watchçv=4Ug64K9_X-g) It's one thing to appear in the Strut. It's entirely another to follow it up with a music video. But that's exactly what the corpulent ensemble did, and it's also posted proudly on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watchçv=5Pdh848QrDE). These dudes have no shame, and we love it.
Florida International University Biscayne Bay Campus
Florida International University
FIU's rock and roll professor, Armando Tranquilino, teaches all the usual music theory and history courses, but what really caught our attention was a class called "The History of the Beatles." Tranquilino brought a sample lecture to an audience of eager baby boomers — and some of his college students — at a Culture in the City talk in Coconut Grove this past December. The Ph.D. was clad in faded jeans, well-worn black boots, and a nicely cut white shirt that he left untucked under a casual blazer (which, true to rock and roll style, he removed midway through his presentation). Not only did Tranquilino have the gear — a pretty Taylor acoustic guitar and a hefty Rickenbacker bass — but he could play it, too. He played Paul McCartney's exuberant bass line to "I Saw Her Standing There" and exquisitely finger-picked "Blackbird," but his finale — playing along with the immaculate bass line from George Harrison's "Something" — was the real show-stopper. Professor Tranquilino, you rock!
La Gloria Cubana Cigar‎
Once upon a time, Miami had a thriving cigar industry. Factories all over the city employed Cuban roleros (cigar rollers) to carry on their native country's well-known tradition for making the world's finest stogies. The industry, like others, has largely moved overseas; most hand-rolled cigars sold in the United States come from the Dominican Republic and Honduras. But a few factories — and a few roleros — remain, and Leo Peraza is one of them. Peraza, now in his sixties, has been rolling cigars for 50 years, 38 of them in Havana and twelve in Little Havana's El Crédito Cigar Factory. He's the factory's most senior employee. Along with owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, he attends Big Smoke conferences around the country, demonstrating the fine art of rolling for wide-eyed cigar aficionados. Before he began rolling for Perez-Carrillo, Peraza was a rolero in Big Havana as well, and he remembers the work fondly. He especially enjoyed the lectores — people employed to read to the workers as they rolled. Peraza still makes a fine cigar, but "I don't smoke them," he says. "Not really. Every now and then, maybe."
Viernes Culturales / Cultural Fridays
If your guests' visit coincides with the last Friday of the month and some down-home flava is what they crave, then form a conga line and steer it to Little Havana's juiced-up block party on Southwest Eighth Street and Fifteenth Avenue for a deep-fried slice of Miami's historic Latin barrio. Kick off the evening with a walking tour of the culturally rich neighborhood while local historian Dr. Paul George peels layers off of some of La Gran Naranja's spiciest lore. Hungry after your strollç Try a ropa vieja crpe capped by a traditional aromatic cafecito at the I Love Calle Ocho Cafe. Eager to find out if the future holds romance or a new jobç Pop into Azucar Para el Espíritu, the hood's trendy new age boutique, where Noelia will offer your group a sidewalk Tarot card reading for a mere $25. After tanking up on carafes of sangria and tasty Spanish tapas at Casa Panza a few doors away, check out one of the many galleries showcasing folkloric art on the colorful strip. Or barter a deal for unique jewelry, ceramics, or other crafts from one of the artisans peddling their wares right off the street. Eager to cut a rug and show off those snazzy salsa moves to your friendsç Head over to the main stage, where you might find Suenalo Sound System tearing it up under the stars, or where los visitantes might be dazzled by the seductive bata drumbeats and sultry Afro-Cuban dance moves of Ile Ife. Chances are y'all may even end up serenaded by a crowd crowing, "Oye Tancredo, cómete el corazón!"
An eight-song serenade is $200, but abuelita will cry when she hears "Cu-curru-cucu Paloma" or "Aquellos Ojos Verdes" played by four musicians with sombreros, ascots, trumpets, and gold-filigree suits. If her birthday happens to fall Monday through Thursday, the same set played by three musicians will only set you back $150, and the full song repertoire is available online. If mariachi serenatas aren't your thing, there are Brazilian, Columbian, and Peruvian bands; or romantic trios de bolero. Violinists, pianists, and harpists are available as well.
Miami Beach Convention Center
All of the town's cheesiest couples flock to the Convention Center to roam the carpeted aisles, eyeing naughty doo-dads with a mix of shock and boredom. (Then there are the guys who show up with brusquely amorous messages on their T-shirts: "I FUCK ON THE FIRST DATE," et cetera. Who do they wear them forç) This is the place where you'll run into the stripper you spent too much money on in Daytona; where everyone comes together for the annual Nearly Nude Mechanical Bull-Riding Championship. Marvel as relatively normal-looking people spend hours in line to get a picture signed by Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy. Gawk as hundreds of hapless locals wander a gauntlet of vaguely sexual booths trying to figure out how to get back their $25 and, instead, uncomfortably gather in front of a low-rent fetish demonstration. When Exxotica's in town, somehow South Beach feels a little more ... well, itself.
Between Homestead and Key West, the eighteen-mile-long village of islands called Islamorada is probably the most happening of the northern Florida Keys. That's saying a lot: The pace of life is still steady as she goes, and sun-drenched relaxation is the order of the day. But there are adorable souvenir shops, tropical art galleries, and — most importantly — lots of bars and restaurants. A cruise down to Islamorada can take less than an hour from Kendall or South Miami, and sitting in the shade at the Tiki Bar (www.holidayisle.com/rest-bars/tiki.html), you feel like you're on vacation much further away from home. At this thatched frat house of a bar back in 1972, inventive bartender "Tiki" John created the rum runner. For $8.60 you can enjoy the sweet taste of Islamorada history. The Island Grill (www.keysdining.com/islandgrill) is another local favorite, with its own beach and comfortable waterfront seating. Dinner at the Islamorada Fish Company (www.islamoradafishcompany.com) is worth the wait for a romantic waterfront dinner and one last cocktail before heading back to Miami. The front of this vast establishment is a popular fish market with great prices on fresh-caught stone crab, yellowtail ($12.99 a pound, baby!), and delectable, buttery lobsters — you can get a whole one for $8.99 a pound, out of season. Eat dinner on the waterfront — some pretty big fish come swimming up to the marina to be fed by eager guests.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®