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Opera singer Matthew Newlin's 'Tango' newly relevant with election of conservative Pope Francis

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Florida Grand Opera singer Matthew Newlin's performance of Tango this week at The Stage in Miami’s Design District has suddenly become very relevant, he says.

“I play an old radio announcer who announces news from around the world. He ends up reading this letter from a cardinal in Rome that completely denounces the tango,” says Newlin, a 26-year-old tenor. “It’s a real letter ... warning the flocks of Christians and Catholics to stand up to this dance, which is nothing but perverse and animal.”

Last week, socially conservative Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina — home of the tango — became Pope Francis.

“We realized the new pope is Argentine,” Newlin says. “How ironic, how coincidental and how fitting.”

Newlin, who is gay, says the tango originally was danced by both opposite and same-sex couples. “You can YouTube it quickly and find examples of two men [dancing] passionately together.”

He grew up Quaker in Georgetown, a tiny city in eastern Illinois. “I was your basic overachiever. I couldn't wait to get out of the small town. I made music, got good grades and got the hell out,” Newlin says. “I didn’t come out until I got to college. It was a very small town not outwardly friendly to gay people.”

After high school, he discovered a love for classical music and realized he was perfectly suited for opera.

“The opera world is a very friendly world for gay people,” he says. “Gay people are attracted to the performing arts, whether they perform or want to watch. From the bottom to the top, we’re all over the place.”

Newlin, who earned a professional diploma in opera from Roosevelt University in Chicago, moved to South Florida last September to train a year at FGO’s Young Artist Studio.

“It’s a steady job in opera and that’s very rare,” says Newlin, who is single. “It’s like a professional internship. We’re being put to work to hone our craft and get better at what we do. ... I’ll be here until the beginning to May. Then I’m off to San Francisco with the Merola Opera Program. Then I am off to Berlin, Germany, to sing with Deutsche Oper Berlin”

This season he’ll get to shine in Tango, a 25-minute, one-man operetta by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, performed with another short opera, María de Buenos Aires.

“I am completely in love with it,” Newlin says of Tango. “I’m walking around as a cardinal, flipping holy water on the audience. It is dark, it is subversive. It’s also light-hearted and funny for the right audience.”

IF YOU GO

Tango and María de Buenos Aires will be performed Wednesday though Sunday nights at The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. General admission, $25. Click here for details and tickets.

More online: NPR: Pope Francis Loves Opera

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