Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Maria de Buenos Aires, Victorian Opera, Aug 21, 2103 ***

Music by Astor Piazzolla; Poetry by Horacio Ferrer
By Victorian Opera
Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Recital Centre, Melbourne
Aug 21  to 24, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 21, 2013
Stars: ***

Review also published in  Herald Sun online on Thur Aug 22, 2013 and later in print. KH

If you relish the pulsing rhythms of Astor Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango, then Maria de Buenos Aires may tickle your fancy.

This is not conventional opera, but a merging of Piazzolla’s jazz and classically influenced tango with Horacio Ferrer’s haunting libretto, metaphorical language and grim imagery that conjures this mythical Maria (Cherie Boogaart).

The Maria of Ferrer’s poetry is whore, saint, virgin, child, martyr, sinner and Madonna; the epitome of Italo-Argentinian, male fantasies and prejudices about women.

The great strength of this Victorian Opera production, directed by Leigh Warren, is the impressive Tango Nuevo Ensemble with James Crabb’s remarkable classical accordion that expresses the passionate heart of Piazolla’s tango.

Warren’s production, set in a sleazy bar, captures the decadence of the seamy underbelly of Buenos Aires, but the stage feels too cluttered with dancers, singers, prostitutes and drunks, so that we cannot the focus on the music, poetry and Maria.

Although there is no linear narrative, Alirio Zavarce narrates fragments of Maria’s life through Ferrer’s pungent, provocative language that incorporates religious iconography and gritty street life, and is redolent of South American magical realism.

Piazzolla’s visceral rhythms intensify Ferrer’s mesmerising and mournful poetry, underscoring the grim, debauched world in which Maria lives and dies.

As Maria, Boogaart’s pretty voice shifts from her operatic higher register into the earthy, deep jazz tones that evoke the gutter and the street.

Nicholas Dinopoulos, as the Cantor, has a vocal warmth and resonance that embodies the fluidity and ardour of Piazzolla’s music and tells the story sensitively.

Boogaart also dances with masterly exponent of the tango, Andrew Gill, and other dancers fill the stage with graceful, passionate variations on the tango.

Ferrer’s language is unforgettable as he describes Maria being, “born in the gutter on a day God was drunk”, having “a crooked nail voice”, and a “kiss made of saffron and indifference”.

The audacious piece by Piazzolla and Ferrer contrasts tenderness with harshness and sinfulness with purity, creating a vivid portrait of this legendary Maria.

However, in this production, much of the exotic beauty and mystical quality is masked by a stage that is too busy and lacks focus on the music, language and Maria.

By Kate Herbert

Conducted by James Crabbe
Directed by Leigh Warren
Designed by Nigel Levings

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