Review: María de Buenos Aires (Chicago Opera Theater)

| April 25, 2013 | 2 Comments

Peabody Southwell and Gregorio Gonzalez star in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)       
      
María de Buenos Aires  

Music by Astor Piazzolla 
Libretto by Horacio Ferrer
Conducted and Directed by Andreas Mitisek 
at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph (map)
thru April 28  |  tickets: $42-$125   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     



     
       

A riveting reinterpretation

     

Peabody Southwell as Maria and Luna Negra Dancers, in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

    
Chicago Opera Theater i/a/w Luna Negra Dance Theater presents
    
María de Buenos Aires

Review by Clint May 

As Director Andreas Mitisek drolly notes in his now infamous opening “letters from the artist,” the tango is a vertical expression of a horizontal activity. In Mitisek’s interpretation of Astor Piazzolla’s tango operita, which first premiered in 1968, the surrealist plot has been updated to comment on the tragedy of events that would occur just a few years after the original debut in Argentina’s ‘Dirty War.’ What was once a sensual dance has been perverted to the precursor to a rape. In this case, the rape of the soul of the tango and by extension Argentina itself, made flesh in the form of María, the gutter saint born on a day when “God was drunk.” Mitisek has performed this interpretation before as the artistic director of the Long Beach Opera in 2012, and has brought it to Chicago just a little over a year later  (this is the Chicago stage premiere) to continue shedding its tainted light and polemic commentary on events few may remember or even be aware of.

Peabody Southwell and Gregorio Gonzalez star in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)Not that poor Payador (Gregorio Luke, in a speaking role) could ever forget. Alone with his liquor, he reflects sorrowfully from the present day back to the events of the rebellion that cost him the love of his life. From the throes of long forgotten faces, only María (Mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell) emerges recognizable, pulsing on the rhythm of the tango that birthed her. While “Seven Minutes in Heaven” plays, she introduces herself to the young Payador (Gregorio Gonzalez). Eventually they marry, but months later Payador joins the rebellion and is captured. María flees safety to find him, seducing the military in an attempt to gain information. Instead, she is brutalized and thrown in a cell, where she finds Payador in the cell next to his (in the original, she awakens in Hell), where his comforting advice to remember the woman she was is unable to stop her from collapsing and succumbing to death.

Every element of Chicago Opera Theater’s production is high-concept. One of the most innovative (or distracting, depending on how much of an opera purist you are) effects is that the frontmost scrim is never lifted. The “set,” as well as the evocation of memories, is projected as a video on the scrim while the actors and dancers are highlighted in tenebreso behind. I found it a compelling device to evoke the sense of memories’ inherently faded nature, and the videos (also by Mitisek, who appears to have bitten off a lot with this production) help give a historical context to the proceedings at some points and evoke abstractions at others. 

Mark Bringelson and Peabody Southwell star in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Gregorio Gonzalez and Gregorio Luke star in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)
Peabody Southwell and Luna Negra Dancers in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Peabody Southwell and Luna Negra Dancers in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)
Peabody Southwell as Maria and Luna Negra Dancers in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Gregorio Gonzalez and Gregorio Luke star in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

Horacio Ferrer’s poetry evokes the Beat Generation; surreal and full of dense metaphor that casts a haunting spell full of twisted images and jarring juxtapositions (the opera is sung in Spanish with English supertitles). Combined with Piazzolla’s tango, the pulse and throb of this operita is brought to sybaritic life by the Luna Negra Dancers, who act as spirits, friends, enemies, guards, etc. Several types of tango are on display, mingled with ballet, waltz, modern, etc. Though this not what one would consider a “showpiece” opera with lots of traditional opera-style singing, Southwell shines as the central figure, both distressingly human and and also a transcendental figure not unlike a Virgin Mary suffering her own incarnation of the Stations of the Cross. Peter Soave on the bandoneón turns one note into many emotional evocations.

As I was quite critical of COT’s previous offering of The Fall of the House of Usher; how I felt that the modern update didn’t work, I’d like to go out of my way to praise Mitisek’s reinvention. Repurposing the original plot—with its more overt religious themes and fantastical elements—into a work of social and political commentary without changing a word is something I’ve rarely seen done so successfully in any art form, let alone opera. It is one of those rare works whose gravity only truly sets in upon reflection. With only a few performances remaining, act quickly to see this “María tango, slum María, María night, María fatal passion, María love of Buenos Aires.”

  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

María de Buenos Aires continues through April 28th at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph (map), with performances April 24 and 26 at 7:30pm, April 28 at 3pm.  Tickets are $42-$125, and are available by phone (312.704.8414) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoOperaTheater.org(Running time: 75 minutes without intermission)

Photos by Liz Lauren


     

artists

performers

Gregorio Luke (Older Payador, ‘El Duende’), Peabody Southwell (María), Gregorio Gonzalez (Younger Payador), Mark Bringelson (Marco)

Luna Negra Dancers: Renée Adams, Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, Christopher Bordenave, Brenna Dwyer, Veronica Guadalupe, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Kirsten Shelton, Karl Rader Watson

behind the scenes

Andreas Mitisek (conductor, director, concept video, production designer), Amy Thompson (production stage manager), Darin Burnett (asst. stage manager), Rick Combs (tech director), David Lee Bradke (asst. lighting design and direction), Nick Sieben (props supervisor), Brandy Karlsen (wardrobe, asst. costume design), Christine Conley (wigs, makeup design), Adam Flemming (video designer), Dan Weingarten (lighting), Liz Lauren (photos)

Luna Negra Dancers perform in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

Gregorio Luke stars as Older Payador in Chicago Opera Theater's "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer, conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)

13-0443

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2013 Reviews, Chicago Opera Theater, Clint May, Dance, Harris Theatre (at Millennium), Opera

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Leonard Grossman says:

    It is not because I am an opera purist thati object to the overuse of the scrim but because it distances those not in the first few rows from the action, I had a better view of the dancing and Southwell’s singing on the video on your page than I did from Row V, where everything seemed murky.

    Lyric has been guilty of overuse of a scrim from time to time, but never , even from the Dress Circle there, have I felt so distanced.

    One thing Lyric has learned is how to use supertitles, but, even granting the difficulty of the poetry, CTO has a lot to learn. Still, I wish I could see this again, from close up.

  2. Ignacio Barcia says:

    Yestereday I went to see “Maria…” at the harris theater and I left the theater quite upset.

    I am no music critic, although I am a musician with 20 years of experience born in Uruguay -which is the other not-so-known nacionality of tango and I was

    born and raised listening to Piazzolla.

    I was commenting to my wife how Ira Gershwin stipulated that only black people should be allowed to play the lead roles on Porgy and Bess…

    After watching “Maria de Buenos Aires” as played in the Harris Theater on April 26th, 2013, I regreted deeply that Piazzolla and Ferrer didn’t do the same.

    Only Argentinians or Uruguayans should be allowed to play the lead roles.

    Unlike other artistic expressions, the language and it’s inflections and accents are a fundamental part of tango and when you put a narrator with a strong

    Mexican accent and a Maria who is still struggling with Spanish altogether it ends up being borderline insulting. All Maria could do is to roll every R and

    exagerate every “LL” which usually ends up sounding like a mockery of our brand of spanish instead of a legitimate attempt to understand how we speak.

    With all due respect for the careers of the artists portraying the narrator and Maria particularly, they should have never been allowed to present this

    distorted and extemporaneous version of a piece that was not conceived like this. There are hundreds of Argentinian and Uruguayan singers that are one

    hundred times better fit for the roles.

    When both an Argentinian and a Uruguayan have to read the English captionings to understand the text that is supposed to be delivered in “our” Spanish, you

    have to wonder what is going on…

    The other big dissapointment is this ridiculous connection that the director made with the so-called “Dirty War” which is nothing but a horrendous moment of

    our history where our countries were ruled by dicatorships largely funded and trained by the Nixon administration.

    Piazzolla was known for not being too bright about his political ideas. He was without a doubt one of the big musical geniuses of the twentieth century but

    all he really cared about was his music. It is a known fact that Piazzolla had dinner with Commander Videla -so prominently featured on your show- who was

    the dictator ruling the country at the time; and Piazzolla was hated for that. Piazzolla’s own daughter -whose house had been the subject of a police raid

    not that long before that dinner- had a really hard time forgiving her own father after an act that was usually associated with treason and cowardice.

    So what is the business of this director putting everything messed up together within a bag and showing it to the world like this? Is it the ambition of

    fabricating controversy out of thin air or is it plain ignorance?

    All I know is that this is a distorted “Maria”, a washed up “Maria”, a ‘Global’ Maria, and one that lacks almost every bit of passion, pain and nuances of

    the true “Maria”. Although We will never know for sure, I am fairly certain that if Astor could see this, he would have started a riot himself like he did so

    many times before.

Leave a Reply