Atlanta Opera: Maria de Buenos Aires

The Atlanta Opera’s production of Astor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires” was a true delight. It was staged in the event space at Paris on Ponce, La Maison Rouge, which is a decent sized space decorated with a variety of novel tchochkes kind of like one of those restaurants with a name that ends with an apostrophe and an ‘s.’ The action took place in a C shaped area that enveloped the front of the audience, with a stage to the left that led to a higher, narrower stage in front. To the right was a bar set and on the floor in front of the higher stage were a couple of small, high tables and chairs, such as you might find in a bar or café. The word “Maria” was written in ribbons of cloth woven through nails on the front wall.

I’ve heard recordings of the work a couple of times before and have even read along with a translation of the libretto. I had found it somewhat disjointed and hard to follow, though I loved the music and the general idea of a tango opera. I thought that seeing it performed would help me understand the story more but it didn’t. That’s because it’s obviously not intended to be a direct narrative but, instead, a sort of magical realist, poetic tango in tribute to the spirit of the slums of Argentina that gave birth to the tango. There was a scene in this production that I think sums up the effect of the opera: the ribbons spelling out the “aria” of “Maria” were unwound and used to tie the payador to the wall, as though crucified, as he looked longingly at Maria. As the tale of Maria of Buenos Aires continued to unwind, I found myself becoming bound to the romantic affinity that Piazzola and the librettist, poet and tango lyricist Horacio Ferrer, felt for the birthplace of the tango and the art form itself.

Although not quite immersive theater, Zvulun’s direction was very effective at drawing the audience into the performance. I loved the use of a pair of professional tangoists to accentuate the action and to provide something reminiscent of the expressive ballets of grand opera in France during the segues: it kept the momentum between scenes going and kind of brought the orchestra onto the stage as something more than just accompaniment.

The performances were excellent, as well. Catalina Cuervo was captivating as the eponymous character. Milton Loayza as El Duende (the goblin), despite having mostly spoken lines, had excellent stage presence as a narrator and Luis Orozco sung El Payador very well. My only complaint was that they all had to be individually miked, which took away the directionality of their voices. At times, it wasn’t immediately clear where a singer/speaker was because the voices came from all around us. Also, the sound system wasn’t the best in the world and the voices came out sounding a bit hollow and, in the case of Laoyza, the mike was crackly. Someone sitting near me told me that it made her think of a crackly radio broadcast, which could have provided an interesting outsider perspective for the goblin narrator, but it didn’t sound like the crackling was intentional.

Overall, that was a wonderful way to spend a Thursday evening. The official announcement isn’t until tomorrow, but I’m very excited about one of the Discovery Series works that Atlanta Opera may be staging in the same location next year: I think that they’ve found a pretty good space and have the right ideas on how to use it.

Don’t forget to check out the Atlanta Classical Music Calendar!

Leave a Reply