Cultural Compass

Talent. Youth. Beautiful Music.

A conversation with soprano María Antúnez and tenor Martín Nusspaumer, two enchanting artists so in love with opera and each other.

Raul Guerrero
Jun 21 · 6 min read
Soprano María Antúnez and tenor Martín Nusspaumer at the historic Olympia Theater. Photo, Niels Johansen.

The National Youth Orchestra of Uruguay

An institution recognized globally for having developed thousands of musicians, sometimes providing instruments for less privileged kids. UNESCO, among other organizations, have lauded the significance of the Orchestra’s work socially and musically. At the helm of the Youth Orchestra is Maestro Ariel Britos, one of Latin America’s outstanding musical leaders, who commented: “At the orchestra, kids not only learn music, they learn about perseverance, hard work, discipline, and they learn about teamwork. And these are skills they take out to the community.”

National Youth Orchestra System of Uruguay, in Spanish. Courtesy of SODRE.

What is your relationship with the Youth Orchestra?

Martin: Our relationship with the National Youth Orchestra of Uruguay dates back to 2014 when we did a very fun New Year’s Eve Concert together. We had instant chemistry with them, not just as musicians but also as people, and for the concept they represent — the social work they achieve through music. Since then we have collaborated in several projects, including operas and concerts.

What role does Conductor Ariel Britos play in forging professional musicians, and the lives of over 2,000 kids since 1996?

Maria: Maestro Britos’s work is remarkable. He studied and worked in Venezuela. There, he saw the success of the well-known Sistema de Orquestas. Then he took this project to Uruguay and developed it with his wife, Claudia Rieiro, a professional flutist. At first, it was their independent project, and years later, with the support of Uruguay’s government, became the Uruguayan National Youth Orchestra, SODRE.

Maestro Ariel Britos. Photo, Helga Makiewikz.

Why did you, both accomplished artists, chose to play with a youth orchestra?

Maria: We believe in the importance of their work, and their fresh energy reminds us of why we chose to be musicians in the first place. For us, making music is not just about being “professionals”. One can never forget about the passion, about always being willing to work hard and give it all.

Are they excited to play in the same theater where Pavarotti and Elvis Presley played?

Martin: Of course! But again, these young musicians are incredibly fortunate to be invited to play at iconic theaters all over the world like Berlin’s Philarmonie and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and with famous and accomplished artists. Maestro Britos makes sure to expose them to opportunities such as this.

On a personal level, musicians like soldiers must be on the road a lot, is it difficult juggling professional life and parenthood?

Martin: It has its challenges. We have a smart and sweet four-year-old girl, Amelia, to whom we try to give the best possible life. To us, that means being together as a family as much as possible, and for that reason, we decided to home school her.

Maria Antunez performing Si, mi chiamano Mimi, from La Boehme. Courtesy of Ms. Antunez.

What are some of the challenges opera faces reaching a younger audience, millennials?

Maria: I think there is a movement, if you wish, away from fast-food — used as a euphemism for everything that is substandard. Young people, millennials, are demanding more complexity. Opera has many layers. When you attend a performance you know you are in for a treat. It’s not just something one can improvise out of the blue. Opera combines various artistic genres, choreography, composing a libretto, that is, the literary arts, music… Some of the best composers created operas, Verdi, Mozart… And even though some of these operas are centuries old, every time an interpreter owns them, they are new and unique.

Operas are timepieces, an operatic staging is a history lesson…

Maria: But not in the sense of learning dates and names… It is a cultural history through the fashion of the times, the customs… Of course, center stage is the voice.

Do you think Opera should be part of history curricula? Should students go to the opera?

Maria, laughing: I think everyone should go to the opera.

Let’s take your daughter as an example, does she enjoy what she hears from mommy and dad?

Martin: Our daughter loves it. All children should be introduced to classical music and opera.

Martín Nusspaumer at the Olympia, improvising a tango for a promo. video by Niels Johansen.

Anything else you can add to connect with Downtown Miami?

Martin: Let me reiterate, the Youth Orchestra of Uruguay is not to be missed. We invite you to join us for a great concert on July 11 at the Olympia, this gem of a theater.

Lyrical Moments, featuring María Antúnez and Martín Nusspaumer at the historic Olympia Theater, July 11, 8 pm. For tickets and more information, please visit

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Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami

Raul Guerrero

Written by

Editor, Downtown NEWS. Director, Downtown Arts + Science Salon, DASS, (DASSMIAMI.COM). His latest book is Curiosidad/Curiosity.

Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami