Even if the Florida Grand Opera's new experiment of smoldering tango music and vibrant opera singing goes off without a snafu, the most-surprised person in the room will be the production's own conductor, Ramon Tebar.
The reason, of course, is that Thursday night's opera will be in a nightclub.
The occasion is "Unexpected Operas in Unexpected Places," a Knight Foundation-funded FGO program that rips the hallowed opera from the starched, suit-and-tie trappings of its Arsht Center home base and plops it into an intimate, Midtown Miami drinking den called the Stage.
"Opera, I think, can be performed anywhere," says Tebar, also FGO's musical director. "Younger audiences might not go to the conventional spaces of the opera, because they think they have to dress formal and pay for expensive things. The size of the orchestra and the style of the tango is better for a smaller, informal venue, where people can sit or grab drinks. I don't know what will happen. I expect big surprises."
The four-night opera-in-a-nightclub series, concluding Sunday, is a double bill of lesser-known, lesser-performed librettos in Robert Xavier Rodriguez's comic opera "Tango" and Astor Piazzolla's operita (or "little opera") "Maria de Buenos Aires." The first is a 30-minute solo performed by FGO Young Artist tenor Matthew Newlin. The second is an intense cocktail of poetic metaphor, surreal dance and Argentine-style tango, and has Colombian soprano Catalina Cuervo belting for the title character, a prostitute who becomes obsessed with tango and dies tragically. Mexican baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco plays her duet partner, El Duende, a role he shared with Cuervo when the pair performed the operetta at the Cincinnati Opera in 2012.
"I think Maria becomes a metaphor for the Argentine music and tango spirit," Tebar says. "There's something in the music you cannot explain. It captures the country's flavor."
Tebar says the slimmed-down production — a 12-piece chamber ensemble, resembling a tango band, will be stuffed into one corner of the nightclub — accommodates the venue's smaller size. Patrons can stand up or sit on sofas, duck away for libations at the bar or, better still, hope that a dancer will interact with them. Tebar says the "Unexpected Opera" series will continue for the next two FGO seasons.
"It's going to be a big laboratory for us," he says. "It's a first-time project. I hope it stays alive. In Miami, an opera and a tango in a mostly Latin city will work."
"Unexpected Opera in Unexpected Places" begins 8 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at the Stage, 170 NE 38th St., in Miami. Admission is $25. Call 800-741-1010 or go to FGO.org.