LBO’s ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’: Love disappears

From the moment we see a pile of human forms behind the scrim, slowly re-animating, as if awaking from a long slumber, a night of debauchery or death, the memory of another tango rises. Long Beach Opera’s production of “Maria de Buenos Aires” was engaging enough. Adult-oriented (bared female breasts) and thematically more about tango as a melancholy musical connection than dance.

Director Andreas Mitisek has adapted Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer’s tango opera, transporting it to Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983), when thousands of men and women were abducted, tortured and killed. It was the the mothers (Madres de la Plaza de Mayo) who led the protests, looking for the disappeared (los desaparecidos).

Piazolla and Ferrer’s tango opera debuted in 1968 with 120 performances according to the program notes. That’s a decade before the Dirty War. Between 1976 and 1983, Piazzolla was living in Italy and his relationship with the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was not friendly. Piazzolla died in 1992 in Paris.

This is not the first time tango had been used as a metaphor for the tragedy of the Dirty War. In Carlos Saura’s 1998 movie, called simply “Tango” in English, but in Spanish “Tango, no me dejes nunca,” the musical the main character is working on deals with the Dirty War as well as other parts of tango and Argentina history. For the segment on los desaparecidos, Saura doesn’t use Piazzolla. Instead he uses “La Represión” written by Lalo Schifrin. Piazzolla’s “Calambre” is used in the sequence were ballet star Julio Bocca dances with Carlos Rivarola and the dance ensemble.

In their 1999 tour, “Tangokinesis” used the sound of machine guns in the Edgardo Rudnitzky piece “Tiros” (meaning shots).  Ana Maria Stekelman’s troupe mixed ballet-trained female dancers with muscular tangueros.

The LBO production uses a patchwork of photos much like the poster of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.  One by one, the photos detach from the scrim “wall” and float down. The role originally played by the poet Ferrer is now cast as an older Payador (Gregorio Luke)–Maria’s lover remembering his younger days. As the young Payador, Gregorio Gonzalez smolders in his brief love affair with Maria (Peabody Southwell).

Nannette Brodie’s choreography goes more for tango fantasia or show tango and doesn’t really give you the atmosphere of a dating meat market or the salon style social exercises of tango dancers. Ian found fault with the male dancers’ “salsa hips” and the ganchos were not convincing.

The choreography and staging fail to evoke the emotional power of Saura’s movie and the sumptuous lighting of Southwell’s bare-breasted Maria seems more cabaret than stark reality.

It’s a shame that LBO can only afford two performances. Gonzalez and Southwell sang beautifully although this score is more tango than opera and in the ornate Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro the evening is an event of discovery–of tango culture (some patrons later retired to a small art gallery that regularly holds tango dance parties), of a little known opera (LBO previously produced “Maria” in 2004) and over a hidden Los Angeles jewel.

Next up in LBO’s 2012 season is a double bill of short comic operas: “The Breasts of Tiresias” and “Tears of a Knife” at the Center Theater in Long Beach. For more information, visit LBO’s website.





About Jana J. Monji

I've written for the Rafu Shimpo, LA Weekly, LA Times, and, more recently, the Pasadena Weekly and I formerly worked for a dot-com more interested in yodeling than its customers.

Posted on February 5, 2012, in Special Events. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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