Bud Kennedy

Tango dancing and a TV star: How Fort Worth Opera fights the idea it's 'not cool'

Texas opera began in Fort Worth, and the Fort Worth Opera has a plan to keep it here.

Yes, management changes and financial struggles keep the opera in perpetual melodrama. But to see the future, meet Fort Worth teenagers like Briana Cortez or Valeria Llovera.

Instead of staying home watching videos, they were at Bass Hall on Wednesday night at rehearsals for “Maria de Buenos Aires,” an Argentine tango operetta opening Friday along with the city's annual opera festival.

“It was definitely very different for a teenager!” said Llovera, 17, a Trimble Technical High School theater student.

“It was beautiful — music, artwork and dance — and all from my culture. It was so much better than just watching a show in Spanish.”

About 44 percent of Fort Worth schoolchildren come from Spanish-speaking homes. The opera is one of several Fort Worth traditions making a cultural pivot from Texas' past to Texas' young and diverse future.

“This is great!” said Cortez, 18, also a Tech student.

“You can bring your mom and she can understand. You won't have to explain like at movies.” (“Maria de Buenos Aires” is sung in Spanish with Spanish and English subtitles.)

This isn't the opera's first bid for crossover audiences and corporate support. It's the fourth year of an Opera of the Americas series, the second for a Noches De Opera lineup of Spanish-language operas and programs.

Last year, the passionate mariachi music and heartbreaking borderland story of “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”) had audiences sobbing loudly and hugging compete strangers. It was one of the most emotional performances on a Fort Worth stage.

“Maria de Buenos Aires” doesn't have the mariachis or tears, but it has darkly sultry moments and a big-name star in Argentine-born Gaby Natale of Grand Prairie, the award-winning talk host of TV's “SuperLatina.”

The festival's comic “Don Pasquale” opens Saturday, and the opera is also presenting a program of 15-minute “pocket operas” at the Botanic Gardens Conservatory.

Two even younger opera fans were at the rehearsal Wednesday. Kaliyah Jones, 14, and Keebra Muhammad, 13, came with students from DVA Productions, a Fort Worth-based interracial arts education and mentor program.

Muhammad, a seventh-grader from the Uhuru Academy, had the plot figured out before the curtain went up.

“I think it's about a girl who fell in love and her name is Maria,” she said.

Both said their taste runs more to Beyonce, but they've seen operas and ”The Nutcracker” ballet.

Jones, a ninth-grader at Rolling Hills Christian Academy, said her friends say opera is “not cool.”

“I love to sing — my whole family sings — but opera is different,” she said.

“When I heard the first high note, I turned to my mom and said, 'I know this is what I want to do.' ”

That's a good note for Fort Worth.

Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538; @BudKennedy

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