Maria De Buenos Aires
Review by Willard Manus

MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES, the 1968 mini-opera by composer Astor Piazolla and poet Horacio Ferrer, tells the story of a sultry tango dancer whose tragic life stands as a metaphor for the fate of the Argentinian people living under fascism for much of the 20th century. Long Beach Opera first performed the opera back in 2004, but that de-politicized production has been scrapped by the company's current artistic director, Andreas Mitisek, who has set the piece during the 1976-83 "Dirty War" period when an estimated 40,000 people were arrested by the junta, many to be never seen again.

The "disappeared" figured strongly in the LBO production: the lobby of the theatre was plastered with replicas of the notices Argentinians posted during the dirty war, seeking missing friends and relatives, and the opera itself opened with a huge video projection of those notices, which then floated down, one by one, like the petals from a dying flower.

The opera's setting, seen dimly behind a scrim, suggested the Buenos Aires waterfront dive where Maria (the earthy, compelling Peabody Southwell) was "born on a day when God was drunk" and went on to dance the tango there, embodying all of its heart and soul, its passion and sexuality. (The tango has been described as "the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.")

Tenor Gregorio Gonzalez sang the role of the young man Parador who loved Maria but failed to keep this plucky free soul out of the clutches of Marco (Mark Bringelson), the puritannical secret policeman who, having been scorned, wreaks vengeance on her. In a non-singing role, Gregorio Luke played the older Parador, who sits over a drink and sorrowfully recalls how he ended up in

a prison cell next to Maria's but was unable to prevent her eventual torture and death.

Ferrer's surrealistic libretto was often florid--"the deranged folds of a bra"--but it was continually saved by Piazolla's hard-driving and expressive score, which was performed masterfully by a nine-piece ensemble (featuring Nick Ariondo's accordion). Although the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre was a physical presence throughout, it unfortunately wasn't given much of a chance to strut its stuff. MARIA was a tango opera without a tango.

Still, MARIA'S fervent, anti-fascist story, and above all its vibrant music and singing, made for a satisfying evening.

March will see the next LBO production, THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS and TEARS OF A KNIFE, two off-the-wall comic operas by Francis Poulenc and Bohuslav Martinu, respectively. For tickets and information call 562-432-5934 or visit