Astor Piazzolla: “Maria de Buenos Aires” at Long Beach Opera
Review by David Gregson, January 30, 2012. Photos by Keith Ian Polakoff
“Yo soy Maria de Buenos Aires / de Buenos Aires Maria ¿no ven quién soy yo?
Maria Tango, Maria del arrabal,
Maria noche, Maria pasión fatal,
Maria del amor de Buenos Aires soy yo.”
Maria is the tango. She is passion both profane and semi-divine. She is the history and heart and soul of Argentina. She is the sum of the immigrants whose cultural synthesis is symbolized in the tango. She is the subject that inspires and animates the poetry of Horacio Ferrer and lives vibrantly in tandem with the inventive and inspired music of Astor Piazzolla.
In Long Beach Opera’s current production staged in a fabulous old art deco movie palace (The Warner Grand) in San Pedro, she is transformed into a victim of the so-called Dirty War that spread violence throughout Argentina between 1976 and 1983. People “disappeared,” and we see them vanishing in a dramatic B&W projection on the scrim before the stage. We also see their missing notices in the theater lobby. Andres Mitisek, LBO’s governing factotum, has tweaked the “Tango Operita’s” story (such as it is) into a commentary on Argentina terrorized by a repressive regime that kidnaps, rapes and tortures Maria — which is to say, Argentina itself.
Mitisek is conductor, concept originator, stage director, and production and video concept designer. I don’t know if he also sweeps the floors.
His one failure in this show was that he could not obtain a bandoneon player. You’d think candidates would be beating down the door to play for the LBO, but no. We had to settle for an accordion. However well played, it doesn’t really sound like a bandoneon, and if Maria IS the tango, Piazzolla IS the bandoneon! The ensemble, however, was quite good: two violins, viola, cello, bass, flute, piano, percussion — plus that accordion. The recording I own also has a double bass and a chorus.
Projections form an important part of this production. The scrim never rises. We see all that goes on through the gauze and smoky haze that fills the theater. Older Payador (Gregorio Luke) recalls the Dirty War and his lost Maria (the superb Peabody Southwell). We are taken back to dance bars and romantic meetings, to the marriage of Maria and the Young Payador (the excellent Gregorio Gonzalez), to Payador’s arrest before the revolution, to Maria’s search for her lost lover, and to her capture, rape, imprisonment and torture. It’s a depressing saga, but redeemed and made somehow transcendent by Piazzolla’s music.
The original score is altered in many significant ways for this LBO show, but LBO so often plays entirely by its own rules. This is an experience nobody who loves musical theater should miss, even if calling it an opera hardly succeeds in describing exactly what it is. One must bear in mind that the definition of opera has been expanding lately into works of art, like those of John Adams and Philip Glass, that abandon traditional operatic narratives for something less directly dramatic. More and more we are seeing emblematic rituals and/or metaphoric pageants that are as far from “Tosca” as one can possibly get.
I should not forget to commend the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre for its memorable contribution to the complex and evocative visual imagery in this superlative production.
Astor Piazzolla: “Maria de Buenos Aires”
Sun. Jan 29, 2012 @ 2pm
Sat. Feb 4, 2012 @ 8pm
Warner Grand Theatre, San Pedro
Duration: 70 min, no intermission
Sung in Spanish with English Supertitles
Maria: Peabody Southwell
Older Payador (El Duende): Gregorio Luke
Younger Payador: Gregorio Luke
Marco: Mark Bringelson
Friends/Enemies/The “Disappeared”/Guards/Spirits: Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre
Accordion: Nick Ariondo
Conductor: Andreas Mitisek
Concept/Director/Production Designer: Andreas Mitisek
Choreographer: Nannette Brodie
Video Designer: Adam Flemming
Light Designer: Dan Weingarten
Sound Designer: Bob Christian