Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
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: ***
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
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
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
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
By Kate Herbert
Conducted by James Crabbe
Directed by Leigh Warren
Designed by Nigel Levings