Arizona Opera, Fort Worth Opera, & San Diego Opera 2018, Lexington Philharmonic 2013


The original story for ‘Maria’, with a libretto by Argentinean poet Horacio Ferrer, is unremittingly dark and strange. For this production, director John de los Santos has crafted a thoughtful, clear narrative that needs no supertitles, though translations of the Spanish text are projected on screens above the stage.

In de los Santos’ visually rich staging, El Payador is Maria’s devoted first love, her ‘sweet sparrow’, who she discards for a flashier guapo who pimps her out for a soul-destroying gang-rape. The cynical El Duende shape-shifts from a homeless woman to a tango dancer, a blind beggar, a drunken bishop and finally a devil-like businessman.

Maria is a neglected child whose unrequited craving for her father’s attention leads to a misplaced trust in men who use her. She is broken but she seems to survive, and in a angelically-lit beatific moment, she outsmarts the greedy El Duende.


You could see dozens of operas per season for decades and never experience anything like Maria de Buenos Aires, but there it was at Bass Performance Hall, opening this year’s Fort Worth Opera Festival.

Director John de los Santos gets the blocking and animation just right, and his virtuoso choreography is splendidly executed by Texas Ballet Theater.



As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires. This dramatically intense production fairly exploded off the intimate stage of the Lyceum Theatre.

Director/choreographer John de los Santos has embraced the macabre imagery and dramatic non-sequiturs and devised a richly varied, vividly theatrical, high energy staging that swept us along in willing abandon. His total belief in the scattering of images and intertwining of subplots allowed us to suspend our disbelief, making satisfying order out of the chaotic jumble of religious artifacts, rituals, and metaphors.

I heartily commend San Diego Opera for such a daring and artistically satisfying fresh new production, which, if the sold-out houses are any indication, is generating new audiences for the operatic art form.


Fort Worth Opera’s ambitious multi-season program to introduce Spanish-language opera to north Texas audiences took a giant leap forward Friday night with a ‘spellbinding’ María de Buenos Aires.

Director and choreographer John de los Santos likewise integrated the spirit and rhythm of the tango not only into the choreographed sequences — featuring three dancers from Texas Ballet Theater — but into the constant motion of the actors.

Fort Worth Opera’s production is a rediscovery of an ambitious work by one of the last century’s musical geniuses, and a powerful statement on behalf of the rich — and generally overlooked — repertory of Spanish-language opera.



Director and choreographer John de los Santos deserves immense credit for shaping this chimerical opera, keeping the diffused actions of the secondary characters which Ferrer simply calls the ‘Ensemble’ cleanly focused and employing dance as a kind of connective tissue that happens spontaneously rather than as a flashy set piece that stops the dramatic action. The downside of Ferrer’s poetic surrealism is a compromised sense of dramatic progression, and de los Santos’ direction and dance design have compensated for this factor without losing Ferrer’s surrealist edge.


The Fort Worth Opera Festival kicked off last Friday with a ravishing performance. Their rendition of Astor Piazzolla’s operetta was glorious. Conducted by Scott Terrell and choreographed and directed by John de los Santos, this María stayed true to Piazzolla’s vision of violence, love, and redemption while balancing the demands of rigorous dance choreography and music-driven drama.

The most affecting scene was a surprise digression to  La Recoleta Cementerio. As shrouded parents lit candles for deceased children, Paige Nyman delivered a poignant tango-tinged dance that personified grief and loss amid a string-driven orchestral lament.


The imaginative staging and choreography of director John de los Santos were seamlessly woven together with the sung and spoken sections of the score. Alex Danna, Riley Moyano, and Paige Nyman, three members of the Texas Ballet Theater, were recruited to dance in some of the scenes, but all of the singers, including a small chorus, were required to move well and expertly convey the spirit of the tango.


San Diego Opera’s 2017-18 Detour Series production began Friday, January 26, and was slated for three more performances in the home of the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza. The venue is a fine one and the whole show seemed highly polished on its opening.

John de los Santos’ staging was strikingly imaginative and included many visualizations of things absent in the published libretto. In fact, de los Santos provided a dramatic impetus missing in the texts themselves.



Maria de Buenos Aires is the latest in the San Diego Opera’s innovative Detour Series. According to the company’s website, the series name indicates its productions are stops on “a route that is different from the ordinary.” Piazzolla’s opera is decidedly such a stop.

Unlike perhaps any other operatic work, more of the libretto is spoken than sung, dance scenes feature tango rather than ballet, and the surrealistic libretto intensifies mood and emotion, much as music does, without adding much clarity to the plot line. That leaves a lot of space for production crew creativity. Director John de los Santos took advantage. He kept the cast in eye-catching motion and tailored scenes to make major plot lines clearer.

de los Santos’s extensive choreographic expertise was valuable in staging the well-done dance scenes. And in just two weeks he taught some of the singers enough tango movements to pass as believable partners.

San Diego’s new production is an enterprising and welcomed “Detour”.


As staged by director John de los Santos, the ninety-minute opera consisted of seventeen individual scenes with no intermission. Although the show’s lyrics are poetic in nature and do not tell a literal story, the director made the drama easily understandable. ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ is among the grittiest of verismo works and Arizona Opera placed it in smaller halls than the ones used for more commonly heard operas. The Temple of Music and Art was totally sold out, however, and its patrons showed at the end of the evening that they appreciated the opportunity.



With ‘María, the Lexington Philharmonic outdoes itself. Director/choreographer John de los Santos has staged the nightmarish scenario with fluid and compelling theatrical imagination. One of the best performances yet by the region’s premiere arts organization.


The Fort Worth Opera’s production of María de Buenos Aires is a courageous act.

…Director-choreographer John De Los Santos presents a hearty and rich rendition of this piece.