The captivating allure of tango music is the main attraction of this co-production of Maria de Buenos Aires by State Opera of South Australia and Leigh Warren & Dancers. The interpretation remains true to the original while taking leaps into new creativity with strong Australian undertones.
Maria de Buenos Aires (1968) is music theatre of tango about tango. This impressive and unusual work, along with the entire legacy of its prolific composer Astor Piazzolla, was crucial to the development of tango which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Piazzolla was always an innovator. In Maria de Buenos Aires he has interwoven tango nuevo into a first-class libretto by Horacio Ferrer - the poet who could write fresh tango lyrics when all tango texts seemed to have been exhausted. Dance and song are interlinked with melodrama (combined spoken text and music) to tell a story of downfall and redemption. The main character Maria alludes to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and to the city of Buenos Aires, called initially Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre.
Maria, a prostitute who falls under the spell of the tango, was played in this production by Cherie Boogaart. Boogaart is a rare performer who has both incredible looks and a rich voice. Her voice boasts of a great range and vocal control, and she can dance. She is incredibly versatile, carrying the stunning costumes of Kathryn Sproul with grace and cold eroticism.
The lower tessitura during the second part of the performance allowed Boogart to touch the core of this complex character by the means of clear declamation and voice colouring. Having a microphone at her disposal, she could have taken the risk to use, besides her luscious operatic tone, the entire vocal production range to great dramatic effect.
Mark Oates sang the role of the Cantor with beautiful tone and good diction. His silky timbre suited the tango music, moulding the sound into that of a great old recording.
The only performer who captured the succulent texture of the Latin-American soul was Alirio Zavarce. Zavarce played the spoken role of the narrator with a dominant male presence intermixed with pride and dignity. He held the dramatic narrative in close embrace, masterfully dancing to the highs and lows of the drama. Like a contemporary Ernst von Possart, he executed the difficult melodrama passages within a wide intonation, with crisp declamation and gestures to match, never succumbing to monotone or rhythmic disjunction. His expressive acting enabled the audience to follow the meaning of the Spanish text even if they didn’t know Spanish.
Leigh Warren’s choreography follows the innovative zest of tango nuevo by extending tango figures into contemporary choreography. Both chorus and dancers, dressed in attractive costumes by Kathryn Sproul, danced and delivered spoken lyrics with excellent Spanish diction.
Nigel Levings nailed the dark night life atmosphere with a discreet set and dimmed lighting. Sitting on stage in front of the bar, the excellent tango band comprising of 12 members including the wonderful bandoneónist Santiago Polimeni, romanced the audience into submission.
The production of the tango operita Maria de Buenos Aire creates a contrast to the standard operatic repertoire in the 2010 program of the State Opera of South Australia and presents a contemporary new music theatre genre on the Australian stage. It is always rewarding to see opera companies taking a leap of faith with new works and artists creating successes with minimal resources.
Leigh Warren & Dancers and State Opera of South Australia present
Maria de Buenos Aires
An opera by Astor Piazzolla
Directed and Choreographed by Leigh Warren
Musical Direction by Timothy Sexton
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Performance Dates: 15, 16, 19 - 23 October, 2010
Tickets: Full $49 / Concession $39
Bookings: BASS 131 246 | www.bass.net.au