Maria de Buenos Aires

by Ástor Piazzolla

In the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Maria is born "on a day that God was drunk...with a curse in her voice". Consumed by passion and a desire for freedom, Maria rejects innocent love and is seduced by the streets. Her fate is sealed as she is claimed by the seedy underworld, but returns to haunt the gritty streets she once owned.

The sensual pulse of Argentine tango sets the stage for this surreal and captivating work by composer Ástor Piazzolla and librettist Horacio Ferrer. Filled with the passionate pulse of the tango and Buenos Aires itself, Maria de Buenos Aires grips you from the first note and will not let go.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Florencia en el Amazonas: Meet Rosalba and Arcadio

While Florencia en el Amazonas is about a primary couple...the opera singer Florencia and her long-lost lover Cristobal...the secondary romantic couple Arcadio and Rosalba are just as fascinating! Sung here by soprano Maria Fernanda Castillo and tenor Paul Montenegro, this young couple spends the opera flirting, philosophizing and then finally connecting romantically as they grow together in love. Listen to these wonderful young singers talk about the opera, their roles, and the wonderful composer Daniel Catan. Enjoy!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Maria de Buenos Aires: meet baritone Paul La Rosa

Baritone Paul La Rosa sings the payador, the minstrel or troubadour who plays many roles throughout the narrative of Maria de Buenos Aires. Normally Paul is singing the standard Italian and French repertoire, but in this conversation he makes a good case for the versatility that every opera singer needs in order to have a successful career. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Maria de Buenos Aires: Meet Maestro Bruce Stasyna

On Tuesday, January 16, Bruce Stasyna, Chorus Master of the San Diego Opera Chorus and Music Administrator for San Diego Opera, gave a talk to donors and supporters about Astor Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires. In his presentation he talked about the role of a conductor, how he approaches rehearsals with singers and orchestra, the origins of the tango, Piazzolla's role as a composer and why the conductor is relishing the opportunity to play and conduct from the piano in this production. Punctuated by appearances of his dog 'Chewy', some backstage crew members and dancers warming up for an ensuing rehearsal, you'll get a first-hand peek at the musical building blocks for a wonderful opera. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Maria de Buenos Aires: Meet John de los Santos

Stage director and choreographer John de los Santos has come up with some terrific ideas about staging Maria de Buenos Aires which, in some ways, can be considered an elusive piece. But he's fashioned a narrative for it that will really help us, the audience, grasp it immediately, just as we will be quickly engaged by the music. Enjoy!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Maria de Buenos Aires: Meet Audrey Babcock

Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock is singing her role debut in our production of Maria de Buenos Aires. A veteran singer of the role of Carmen, her voice and theatrical personality are perfect for Maria. In this podcast episode she talks about her take on the character and the fascinating libretto of Horacio Ferrer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tango in Maria de Buenos Aires

Who knew tango...the dance and the music...was so complicated?? The origins of the tango are disputed, confused and floating somewhere in the mists of time. And different styles of tango are so different that it is difficult to come up with a nice, clean definition of the art form. Yet, when we hear a tango we know what it is! Amazing. Check out this latest podcast on how Astor Piazzolla uses the tango in his operita, Maria de Buenos Aires. Enjoy! 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Maria de Buenos Aires: Astor Piazzolla

It's taken awhile for the entrancing, intimate and alternative opera Maria de Buenos Aires to make it to San Diego Opera, but it's finally here and we're all very excited! This opera is infused with the spirit and melodic adventure of the tango, the cultural habitat of Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. In this informative podcast, Dr. Nic gives you a bit of the story of this interesting artist with some suggestions about recordings that you might want to get in order to prepare for this wonderful work. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meeting Dame Quickly: Mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti

Mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti is one of this company's favorite people! Not only fun to be with and to talk to, she's a wonderful artist who lives inside her characters onstage. Enjoy this conversation with Nicolas Reveles as she talks about her role in Falstaff (Dame Quickly) and gives some advice to young singers.

The tale opens on Duende (the Narrator) who relates the story of Maria, a prostitute born in the slums “one day when God was drunk … with a curse in her voice.” Maria is seduced by the rhythms of the tango and soon becomes “the most sorcerous singer and lover” in Buenos Aires. However, her “fatal passion” arouses the wrath of robbers and brothel madams who shoot her to death, and bury her in an unmarked grave. In death, Maria is pulled into a dreamlike Hell where she encounters the choral circus of psychoanalysts who dissect her to the core. She makes a resurrection of sorts when the Duende summons her to return as a Shadow, give birth to a new Maria, and haunt the sordid streets of Buenos Aires which she once walked.

Cultural Notes on Tango

The origins and evolution of tango are still being studied and debated, and scholars and enthusiasts do not necessarily agree on a number of topics. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that tango was born in the 19th century in the Río de la Plata, an area shared by Argentina and Uruguay, as a dance and musical style relegated mostly to low income classes and impoverished neighborhoods, besides being immediately adopted by marginal cultures. It caught up relatively quickly with the middle and upper classes and became extremely popular. Strangely enough for a culture that presented a certain degree of machismo, when tango was established as a defined style, it was first danced only between men. In its beginnings, tango was stigmatized as being of ill repute, danced and played frequently in brothels. Many influences are cited: Caribbean, African, and European.

Tango evolved into a complex expression that influenced (and was in turn influenced by) other currents and figures of the local milieu: The gaucho, the guapo (taita, compadrito), the marginal, the immigrants, the lunfardo, and the strong “porteño” touch. (In the case of Uruguay, the epicenter was the capital city of Montevideo.) Tango nowadays is universally known, studied and practiced in countries far removed geographically and culturally (like Japan) from the original epicenter of the Río de la Plata. Tango is an eminently “local” product, but its true origins lie in the multicultural, multi-class, multi-ethnic, native and immigrant population of Argentina and Uruguay.

A Paradigm Shift:

From the gaucho to the guapo, from the countryside to the city: As the predominantly rural environment of Argentina and Uruguay was metamorphosing into an urban one, the era of the gaucho was waning. His once vast and open horizons were being constrained by property delimitation and the caducity of his lifestyle. Now the era of the “guapo” was dawning, partially inheriting the image of “tough man” and “valor” in the urban environment. The gaucho, while sometimes an outlaw, had a clear function, whereas the guapo had practically none, other than structuring a sort of hierarchy in the community, but with a mostly negative connotation compared to the emblematic gaucho. As this transition was taking place, tango was simultaneously being born.

Astor Piazzolla:

Many great, well-regarded and well-known musicians, lyricists, writers and singers contributed to the evolution of tango throughout the years. In modern times, Astor Piazzolla is one of the most respected figures.

Unlike most who contributed to the origins and development of the tango, Piazzolla came from a different background. He was a classically trained, refined musician and composer. Piazzolla undoubtedly made tango available to a wider audience and helped extend its boundaries, both stylistically and geographically. For that, he was equally admired and criticized, but it is almost universally recognized that Piazzolla’s style lent tango worldwide cultural legitimacy, even in what is known as the realm of “classical” music. Besides being an extraordinarily talented composer, he was also an exceptional bandoneon player. Piazzolla drew from classical and contemporary sources as well as from the deep roots of tango, creating a powerful synthesis that propelled it from being in some regards a thing of the past to a contemporary language, reinvigorating the style.

Horacio Ferrer:

Ferrer was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and spent his life between that city and Buenos Aires, Argentina. He became associated with Piazzolla during the sixties and wrote lyrics for many of his tangos, most notably Piazzolla's “operita” or “opera-tango,” Maria de Buenos Aires. The sixties brought profound changes to the culture of many societies, and had a strong influence in Ferrer’s poetic, which shows facets of surrealism as well as social criticism. Ferrer’s poetry has a perceivable strength and depth, and it is rich in dramatic overtones, expressing an incredible tenderness and even elements of humor. He also worked with a number of other renowned figures of the world of tango, wrote numerous articles, essays and books on tango, and was a well-respected tango scholar.


From the port of Buenos Aires. In its origins (and to a great degree, still today), Argentina was structured as a network whose very center was the port of Buenos Aires. The port was the completely predominant gate through where most merchandise and people entered and left the country. “Porteños” were considered a sort of elite. To give an idea of the area’s strong gravitational pull: What is referred to as the Great Buenos Aires, the city and surrounding urban areas, holds about one-third of the country’s population.


An argot used in its origins mainly by inmates and marginal elements, containing many words derived from “Lombardo,” of Italian influence (region of Lombardy), but also chopped-up, reversed, derived or made up words, as a code of sorts. Many lunfardo words were adopted, adapted and integrated into the everyday colloquial language of the region.

Guapo (taita, compadrito):

A rough character found mostly in the then-marginal enclaves of the Río de la Plata around the first half of the 20th century. He projected an image of self-reliance, endurance, lawlessness, and was considered potentially dangerous if confronted or upset. Like the gaucho, he was frequently armed with a knife.


A figure from the mythological universe, partially akin to a sprite, a fairy, a goblin or an elf, part of the folklore of many Spanish-speaking countries. Sometimes beneficial, sometimes mischievous, said to have magical powers. Its appearance and characteristics vary with the region.


Arguably the most important musical instrument of the classical tango orchestra configuration. Named after Herman Band, a German musical instruments dealer, it made its way with immigrants to the Río de la Plata region. It was created as a “portable organ” of sorts to play religious as well as popular music. Paradoxically --as frequently pointed out by tango scholars-- it ended up in the brothels of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This apparent contradiction in terms (religious/sacred versus mundane/profane) also weaves through the themes in Maria de Buenos Aires.


A sort of gaucho minstrel. Accompanied by a guitar, the payador composed and recited verses, usually competing with a peer for inventiveness and cleverness. Payadas often had a sort of mischievous and picaresque turn, although more serious social matters or aspects of the gaucho life sometimes lay beneath the surface.


Both an early tango style and an adjective that connotes certain roughness, sensuality and even rebelliousness, being true to the origins, unpolished.


The odd presence of the psychoanalysts in Scene 12 is explained by the extraordinary density of psychologists per capita in Buenos Aires, to the extent that there is an area of the neighborhood of Palermo that has been given the nickname of “Villa Freud.” Psychology has had, and continues to have, a remarkable influence in the urban culture of Argentina. The Argentinean intelligentsia (and particularly that of Buenos Aires) fully embraced psychology as a science and psychoanalysis as a therapy, having a much more reputable status than psychiatry. Here, though, in Scene 12, it takes on a sarcastic, critical tone.

Thoughts on the title of the opera-tango Maria de Buenos Aires:

Maria de Buenos Aires contains many historical, musical and cultural references. The name given to the city of Buenos Aires during its first foundation in the 1500s was “Santa Maria del Buen Aire,” loosely translated as “Holy Mary of the Fair Winds.” Considering the female character of Maria and other references such as tango and religion, it could be said that the title to this work is an homage to the city of Buenos Aires itself.

Text by Claudio Luchina, edited by Ana Martínez