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.
On July 11, the National Youth Orchestra of Uruguay will join world-renowned soprano María Antúnez and tenor Martín Nusspaumer at the historic Olympia Theater for Lyrical Moments, an unforgettable evening featuring Spanish inspired selections from Carmen, Zarzuelas, and Broadway musical theatre. Lyrical Moments is a journey from Europe to the Americas, from the most classic genres of lyric poetry to exotic tango.
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter and Opera Today had to say about Maria, a protegee of Placido Domingo: “Impressive, remarkable, smoldering, an excellent artist with a flexible, dark voice of dramatic weight…” And one reviewer commented on Martin: “His sound was sizable and memorable, his phrasing sculpted and sensitive, and his stage presence striking even in the moments when he wasn’t singing.”
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.”
Downtown NEWS had the opportunity to chat with Maria and Martin — who are married to each other — and made Miami their home when not on the road performing. Just last week they were in Spain and next week they are heading to Uruguay.
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.
Martin: The National Youth Orchestra has 120 members, selected among over 2000 students from all over the country. The Orchestra provides all of them with musical education from early on, and through competitions, they get to the “cherry on top”, as they like to call it. The National Youth Orchestra is to them the way to the professional world. Going back to Maestro Britos, he has won multiple international awards because of his work and is currently the President of Iberorquestas Juveniles, “Iberian Youth Orchestras,” an association of all the youth orchestras from Central and South America and Spain.
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: Amelia loves traveling and gets to live unique opportunities that most children don’t get. At the same time, we try our best not to miss her own activities. Sometimes when we are working together on a production, we have to bring family from Uruguay to help us. So far we have made it work.
María has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, in roles like Mimi in La bohème, Angelica in Suor Angelica, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, and Queen Elizabeth I in Maria Stuarda.
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.
Maria: Children are like sponges, they absorb everything, good and bad. Why not expose them to great music from an early age?
Martin is an electrical engineer. When he was doing graduate work at the University of Montevideo, across the street from the Conservatory, he couldn’t resist and walked over to register for voice lessons. While he was working as an engineer, he listened to Pavarotti all day. At one point, he had to choose, and his passion for the opera won. He has performed internationally, gaining raving reviews. Charleston Today: “Astonishing, his presence enthralled the audience in almost an embarrassment of pleasure.”
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.
Maria: We’d like to give special thanks to Amal Solh Kabbani and Magic City Opera for making this concert possible.