Maria de Buenos Aires

The highlight of summer shows for me was yesterday: a performance of Piazzolla’s operetta “Maria de Buenos Aires” at Stern Grove by the Long Beach Opera. It was free, and atypically, it was sunny and hot.

As a big Piazzolla fan, I love “Maria de Buenos Aires” which embodies all the melancholy, beauty, romance and violence of tango, and the gritty carnal crucible in which it was forged. (Stern Grove’s trademark fog would have made for better staging.)

I was very excited, because it was my first time seeing it performed. Like a favourite musical, I knew all the songs and could hum along. But I never understood much of the plot, since the lyrics are all in Spanish. Like, I never knew there was a scene with shrinks. (Psychoanalysis is apparently a very big thing for Argentines.)

I have three of the four recordings, and my favourite by a nudge is the Kremer recording. The original, performed by Piazzolla and Horatio Ferrer (the librettist/poet) themselves, is also very good, but for some reason omitted “Yo Soy Maria”, which is the signature song. (It’s on the 1999-2000 lagniappe). (Imagine a recording of Turandot excluding “Nessun Dorma”?) Avoid the version on the Milan label: it’s done in a very high-falutin’, ‘fat-lady sings’ fashion (sopranos, mezzo sopranos and baritones)..ugh.

I missed Gidon Kremer’s one-night showing at Zellarbach several years ago, because it coincided with a family reunion in Sacramento. It was a tough call, but cousinly affection won out. (Terry was visiting from HK. I hope he realises what an honor it was that I gave up seeing what must have been a splendid production just because of him).

Afterwards, we went to Kathy and Norman’s. They live a couple blocks from Stern Grove. Norman’s curb-appeal trophy project is concentric radial cobblestones laid in around a couple of trees. It was beautifully done. Kathy gave us a tour around her domain: the back yard garden. She’d been doing defense installation against the gophers, with chicken wire.

But the main reason we’d been invited over was to make jiaozi (dumplings).

Norman lived in China for a few years back in the time of food ration coupons and lil’ red books, and was going to impart to us the secrets of potstickerology, from “We’re not using no ready-made wraps, we’re rolling our own dough!” to the Art of Cabbage: chopped finely, squeezed three times, adding salt to it, rinsing and squeezing again…just to get the ‘bitter juices’ out.

We had “Xan xian’ (Three Fresh) stuffing: which was pork, shrimp and diced egg omelette… plus cabbage and daikon.

Actually rolling out the dough is the hardest part: the wrappers are not supposed to be uniformly circular … or flat. There’s supposed to be a dimple in the center, and the edges of each wrapper is supposed to curl up slightly. “The absence of fog today is drying out the dough” frowned Norman. I stuck to stuffing/sealing the dumplings, one of the few Chinese kitchen prep skills I’m competent at.

The cooking method: pot of boiling water, one layer of dumplings, add one cup of cold water, wait til comes to boil again, add bowl of cold water (three times). This is so they are hygienically but not overly cooked.

Of course they tasted really good. The stuffing was very light, and the fresh dough did make a great difference in taste. THX for the palate instead of mere hi-fi. I wish I hadn’t snacked so much during prep, so I could have eaten more dumplings. But Kathy’s fluffy tofu salad was simple and irresistable: with just green onion, salt and sesame oil.

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