Interview: Maestro Jorge Parodi On ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ in NYC

Argentine Conductor Relates His History With Piazzolla’s Masterpiece & Doing 2 Operas At the Same Time

By David Salazar

When conductor Jorge Parodi was a young man growing up in Argentina, he often heard a melody played as an introduction to a television series.

“I never imagined it was from an opera,” he told OperaWire in a recent interview.

Everyone knew that the tango melody was by Piazzolla, but it never occurred to him that the tango melody might be from an opera.

A few years later, he found himself in New York, already specializing in conducting opera. For his birthday he received a gift – a recording of Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires.”

“That was my first real encounter with the opera,” he noted and the melody from his youth now had a context. “I was taken aback by the use of tango in such a dramatic and operatic context. Tango is usually quite short, but to see it expanded into an entire work was a unique experience. And the way Piazzolla uses it is so full of creativity. There are a few musical ideas that he reinterprets numerous times that give the work cohesiveness.”

Growing Into Piazzolla’s Top Interpreter

During that time, Parodi, who is currently Music Director of the Senior Opera Theatre at the Manhattan School of Music and the Opera in Williamsburg, was running Opera Hispanica and immediately suggested that the company take on the Piazzolla work. The production company took him at his word and mounted “Maria” at the Poisson Rouge.

“It isn’t really a work of traditional theater and it works best if you’re in a more relaxed space,” Parodi noted regarding the choice of venue.

After that run, he would go on to become one of the great champions of the opera, conducting the work at Opera Grand Rapids and the Atlanta Opera, where he is slated to do it once again later this season. Per his website, he has conducted more productions of the opera than anyone else.

“When you go back to a masterpiece, it’s like seeing old friends again and rediscovering them,” he noted about his passion for performing “Maria de Buenos Aires. “The relationship you have with the music deepens every time you go back to it.”

But now he is going to take it on at the New York City Opera. The venue? The Poisson Rouge.

Familiar Territory

The production for the run, which takes place on Oct. 22, 26, and Nov. 2, will be directed by Tomer Zvulun, who directed the work in Atlanta.

Parodi noted that this production is very suitable to audiences as Zvulun’s take on the mythical story is “very human.”

“In reality, they are really more likely psychological entities that are products of the hallucination and psychoanalysis that was so prominent in the 1970s. But Tomer aims for more identifiable characters that can connect with the audience,” Parodi noted. “The characters are more human than conceptual.”

This production will star Catalina Cuervo, who has performed the opera more than any other singer in history. She has appeared in the role at Anchorage Opera, Atlanta Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, Cincinnati Opera, New Orleans Opera, and Arizona Opera, among others.

“She is very comfortable with the music and the character. She has a ton of artistic personality,” Parodi noted before explaining that Cuervo has a strong sense of how people view Latin American women in the U.S. “There is an assimilation between the collective consciousness and her own individuality.”

He noted that the Colombian singer is also quite acquainted with the style of tango and has grown into the role more and more with every production he has worked with her on.

“Of the people that do it, she has a look and color of voice that is very ‘Maria.’”

Growing Popularity

The opera has seen a major surge in popularity over the past few decades, especially in the United States, which the conductor attributes to a number of factors.

“It’s very open to interpretation. The text is so complex and rich that it is difficult to really define it. There is an evolution of characters, but the story doesn’t really exist. There isn’t a fixed time and space like we are used to in other operas,” he noted. “The idea is not to understand what is happening in every moment, but to feel it.”

This openness of interpretation and feeling, combined with its smaller orchestration, has allowed for the work to be seen in a number of unique contexts and venues across the United States.

This makes it more accessible to the public. The conductor also feels that the work’s popularity has resulted from opera companies looking to engage Latin American audiences, though he wondered about whether there were actually more Latinos attending the opera than non-Latinos.

But the overriding factor for the work’s popularity?

“At the end of the day, the other factors don’t really matter if the work isn’t good. Dramatically and musically, ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ is a masterpiece.”

Balancing Two Operas At Once

There is one unique factor to this run of performances in New York – the conductor will actually be putting together another opera at the same time. However, this other work is taking place down South in Orlando where Parodi is set to make his Opera Orlando debut conducting “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”

Per the conductor’s own admission, the week prior to the opening of “Maria de Buenos Aires” saw him running back and forth between the two states to make all the rehearsals.

Between Monday, Oct. 15 and Wednesday, Oct. 17, he was in New York rehearsing “Maria.” On Thursday he flew to Orlando to do a rehearsal for “Hoffmann” before flying back to New York on Friday for a “Maria” tech rehearsal.

Saturday it was back to Orlando for the “Hoffmann” sitzprobe and then Sunday features the dress rehearsal for “Maria” with the opening night slated for Monday.

On Tuesday, he is set to fly back to Orlando for the dress rehearsal of “Hoffmann,” with opening night the following day. “Maria De Buenos Aires” hits the stage again on Friday (as does “Hoffmann”).

Parodi must then remain in Orlando between the 27th and 30th for three more performances of “Hoffmann” before returning to New York for the final “Maria de Buenos Aires” on Nov. 2.

“I didn’t want to give up doing either. So I talked to the two companies and asked that we figure out a way that I could do both,” he explained. “I am thankful that we found a way to make it work.”

This is the first time the conductor takes on the famed Offenbach score, a work that he considers another genuine masterwork.

“My favorite moment is Antonia’s act. It has so many incredible moments, such as the trio. It is so strong musically with a lot of polish,” he explained. “The greatness of ‘Hoffmann’ in general is its musical richness and its complex characters. There is so much to enjoy in the story. It’s a treasure chest of musical ideas.”


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