That which is good about Beth Greenberg’s production of Ástor Piazzolla’s MARÍA DE BUENOS AIRES for Opera Hispánica is so very good that one doesn’t even want to think about that which is awkward or even bad about it. The supertitles are dreadful, no matter how difficult the surreal imagery of Horacio Ferrar’s libretto is to translate from the Spanish. Who cares? The cramped stage at (le) poussin rouge makes it hard to know if the dancing works, or, in relation to the singers, is just distracting. So what? The score is by one of the great 20th century modernists, and under the baton of Jorge Parodi you can let it engulf you and concentrate on the performers who embody it.

And on one most especially – Solange Merdinian, the young Argentine-Armenian mezzo soprano who is utterly mesmerizing as María. In the loose, mad, nightmarishly surreal scenario she enacts – of a misbegotten child of the streets, who is born, raised, abused by men, and dies in a week, Christlike, and then Marylike gives birth to an infant, that is, however, not a son but a daughter, and perhaps María herself in rebirth – Merdinian walks the stage as she might the troubled and abused city that María, as a figure, incarnates and redeems. She does little of what could be called stage dancing – in fact she is “taught” it, beautifully, in a routine with the dancer/choreographer Daniel Fetecua Soto – but there is more tango in her legs, in her most casual shifts of weight, than in nine-tenths of what one sees elsewhere. Piazzolla’s score enters her as air the lungs, and Ferrar’s poetry is exhaled with an astonishing naturalism (in contrast to the Uruguayan baritone Marcelo Guzzo’s appropriately operatic turn as El Payador). At more than one point, she and the gorgeous swell of the music – I could not separate them – had the audience around my table in literal tears, and me as well.

I have seen this little opera once before, excellently staged and performed, and more polished as a whole, but it had nothing of the final impact that this intimate, cramped, not quite figured out production does. They have justly sold out their two performances, and I hope they bring it back, with the edges honed a little more finely, but not too much so, for it cut deep and rough on Friday night, and on me at least it left a scar.

Click on (le) poisson rouge for upcoming events at that venue and here for information about Opera Hispanica.

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