Chicago Opera Theater to Present MARÍA DE BUENOS AIRES, 4/20-28

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Chicago Opera Theater's Chicago Stage Premiere production of Astor Piazzolla's MARÍA DE BUENOS AIRES evokes Argentina's "Dirty War", the period between 1976 and 1983 when the country was governed by military juntas which controlled the populace through state-sponsored terrorism. This "tango operita" is of stunning originality, pulsing to the passion and beat of Astor Piazzolla's revolutionary "nuevo tango" and Horacio Ferrer's mesmerizing, imaginative poetry. Chicago Opera Theater's production is a collaboration with Chicago's Luna Negra Dance Theater at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive, and runs for four performances only: Saturday, April 20; Wednesday, April 24; Friday, April 26; and Sunday, April 28. Tickets are on sale now.

María de Buenos Aires premiered in 1968, closer in time to the "Dirty War" than to the 30's and 40's where it is often placed. While the country was under control of the juntas, upwards of 30,000 people "disappeared," while many more were victims of torture and abuse. "These themes are implicit in Piazzolla's radical music and Ferrer's ingenious poetry," says Andreas Mitisek, COT's General Director. "This production delves into the soul of this work and gives it a contemporary meaning beyond clichés and stereotypes."

Mitisek explains, "Our María represents the passion of the Argentinian women who were as seductive as the tango while resilient and strong enough to overcome dictatorship in a country where the machismo culture predominates. Taking the tango to its most brutal extreme, the 'Dirty War' was a dance of torture, covered in blood, and danced by the highest echelons of society and power. In María, the tango is a dance of life and death. Piazzolla embraced the tango in an extreme way. He took it to a deeper level. He intensified everything about it - the harmonies, the form, the noises, the jerks; he created a revolution within the tango."

"Piazzolla's María is the ultimate metaphor for the heart and soul of Argentina and, for me, also a metaphor for love, hope, fear and resilience," continues Mitisek." In our production, María falls victim to the "Dirty War," but she is reborn in the protests of the thousands of "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" whose children "disappeared." It is a paradox that those who were treated the harshest by the dictators remained the strongest. It was these mothers and others like them whose fight for justice eventually brought the military to its knees." María: I dream a dream that nobody ever dreamed. María noche, María pasión fatal! María del amor!

In 1967, Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer called their first collaboration, Maria de Buenos Aires, a "tango operita." However, this work contained music unlike any conventional tango. Piazzolla took the tango off the dance floor by creating a new style termed "nuevo tango." This style incorporates counterpoint, dissonance, extended harmonies, and elements of jazz and classical music. María de Buenos Aires premiered at the Sala Planeta in Buenos Aires in May1968 with Piazzolla's ten piece orchestra, Amelita Baltar as María, and Horacio Ferrer as El Duende. The opera had its U.S. premiere at Houston Grand Opera in 1991 and LBO presented the 2004 West Coast premiere in a different production and again in 2012.

CAST:

COT DEBUT: Peabody Southwell (María) mezzo-soprano. Her previous roles include Long Beach Opera: Ramirez in Vivaldi's Motezuma, the Fox in Leos Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, Neris in Luigi Cherubini's Medea, and Nefertiti in Philip Glass' Akhnaten. Garcia Lorca in Ainadamar by O. Golijov. Mark Swed in the LA Times wrote of "the beauty of [her] sure high notes" and, after seeing her performance in Vixen, forecast that she "was going places." She won over critics last summer at Central City Opera in Colorado where Kyle MacMillan in the Denver Post wrote that she was the "standout performer from the lineup... [She] has the self-assurance and polished technique of a well-established veteran as well as such winning extras as a terrific sense of movement and a kind of theatrical pizzazz..."

COT DEBUT: Gregorio Gonzales (El Payador) baritone. Born in Mexico, has performed across the United States, Europe, and Mexico. He recently sang the role of Di Cosimo in both the Los Angeles world premiere and Viennese premiere of Daniel Catán's Il Postino and has performed a variety of roles from Handel to Donizetti, including Der Klug in Viktor Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis at the Ojai Festival under the baton of Kent Nagano. Mstislav Rostropovich describes Gregorio as, "Not just a good singer, but a GREAT musician..." and Placido Domingo says, he "possesses a beautiful and musical voice. The credibility of his acting skills brings a tremendous stage presence to his performances."

COT DEBUT: Gregorio Luke (El Duende). Famed Latin American expert and former Director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, CA, makes his Chicago stage debut as El Duende. Luke brings to the role the same fervor and enthusiasm he displays in his acclaimed arts presentations nationally and abroad. Edward Goldman, KCRW, describes Luke as "eloquent and passionate" and Agustin Guiza, Los Angeles Times, says Luke "speaks as if he's seen a vision. His listeners can't help but see it too."

Composer Astor Piazzolla (March 11, 1921 - July 4, 1992) was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina and in 1925 moved with his family to New York. He grew up surrounded by the music of Bach and jazz. When he was 8 years old, his father gave him a bandonéon, a German concertina which became very popular in Argentina and Uruguay. By the time he was 13, Astor was proficient enough on the instrument that he impressed the famous Argentine singer Carlos Gardel, who asked him to take a small part in one of his movies and to go on a promotional tour with his band. Piazzolla's parents refused to allow the young Astor to travel with the band. Gardel and his entourage were subsequently killed in a plane crash while on the tour. In 1936, the family moved back to Argentina. As a young man, Piazzolla played in local cabarets, conducted several dance bands, and wrote a number of tangos. While studying classical music, he moved away from the tango form and concentrated on composing in the style of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Ravel. As a result of winning a music prize in 1953, the government of France gave him a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Boulanger was to transform Piazzolla's life. Upon first meeting him and reading his scores from the previous ten years, Boulanger told him, "I can't find Piazzolla in this!" He grudgingly told her of his proficiency with the bandonéon in the cabarets and then played for her some bars from one of his own tangos. She told him, "You idiot, that's Piazzolla!" And, Piazzolla said, "I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to Hell in two seconds."

Piazzolla subsequently returned to Argentina to compose his own unique brand of music, a blending of classical influences with the tango style. During this period, Piazzolla played in a number of ensembles; collaborated with other artists; and wrote several film scores. Although a leading figure in Argentina, his new musical forms fomented hatred among the orthodox "tangueros" or tango masters. The Argentine saying "in Argentina everything may change - except the tango" is reflective of some of the resistance he encountered. Despite the criticism, he continued composing original concert pieces.

Although he spent time in both Italy and New York, he always returned home to Argentina. In 1968, he and poet Horacio Ferrer wrote his only opera, María de Buenos Aires, a mystical, surreal journey through the streets of Buenos Aires with the leading figure of María a metaphor for the Argentinian people. In the 1980's, Piazzolla's compositions increased in popularity across Europe and the United States helped by recordings and his collaborations with Gary Burton, Lalo Schiffrin, Mtislav Rostropovitch, and the Kronos Quartet. Today, his pieces are regularly performed by major orchestras around the world. The cellist Yo Yo Ma recorded Piazzolla: Soul of the Tango and recently, violinist Gidon Kremer has championed Piazzolla's work and recorded María de Buenos Aires, the Grammy-nominated Hommage à Piazzolla, and El Tango, among others.

Born in Montevideo, Argentina, librettist Horacio Ferrer (June 2, 1933 - ) began writing songs, plays, poems and tangos at an early age, often accompanying himself on the guitar. An uncle who lived in Buenos Aires introduced him to the city's street life and cabarets. While studying architecture in Uruguay in the 1950's, he started a weekly radio program called "Seleccion de Tangos" where he defended the new, avant-garde tango styles. In 1955, he met Astor Piazzolla and was inspired by him to study the bandonéon. In 1959, his first book, El Tango, Su historia y evolucion, was published and he also became involved in radio and television shows. During this time, Ferrer co-wrote "La ultima grela," a work which brought him recognition as a lyricist.

Following the 1967 recording of Ferrer's poems, "Romancero canyengue," Piazzolla invited him to collaborate. The operita María de Buenos Aires was their first effort as a team. In 1969, their subsequent work on a series of "baladas" brought Piazzolla his first major success in Argentina. Ferrer and Piazzolla continued collaborating through 1973. Ferrer also worked with a number of other important artists during his career. The three volume edition of his El Libro del Tango, Arte Popular de Buenos Aires is considered the binding reference for any researcher of Argentine tango music and dance.

ABOUT ARGENTINA'S DIRTY WAR (1976 - 1983): Juan Perón's third wife, Isabel Martínez de Perón, was President of Argentina from June 1974 to March 1976, a period marked by escalating violence. In the final months of her term, the country fell into civil war. The Buenos Aires Herald reported that bombs were exploding in the city "every three hours." On March 24, 1976, military juntas ousted her and took control of the country. The seven year period of their rule was given the name "Dirty War" by its leaders. After taking over the government, they created the "National Reorganization Process" and quickly moved to eradicate any opposition. The "reorganization" led to the reported deaths of thousands of dissidents and anyone perceived as subversive including students, journalists, unionists, and political opponents of any kind. It was a time of violence, kidnappings, detentions, torture, and "disappearances." Young mothers were arrested and killed and their babies handed over to followers of the regime.

The Argentine military made a misguided calculation in 1982 that they could rally popular support for their government by retaking the Falkland Islands from the British. When they lost the Falkland War in June of that year, the days of the juntas were numbered. The military, weakened by the Falkland War, was eventually forced out and a civilian government took control of Argentina in December 1983.

At the 2006 Trial of the Juntas, the first such trial in Latin American history, the1970s' Argentine government was convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide. Since 2006, every March 24th is a public holiday known as the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. The streets are filled with people who recall the "dirty war" and pray that such a war will never happen again.

Since its inception in 1999, Luna Negra Dance Theater has established itself as a significant and vital component of Chicago's arts and cultural community. Founded by Cuban-born dancer and choreographer Eduardo Vilaro, Luna Negra celebrates the richness and diversity of Latino culture through the creation of works by contemporary Latino choreographers and through intensive, hands-on education programs that encourage discovery and exploration of personal and community identity. Now under the leadership of award-winning Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Luna Negra has risen to the forefront of American contemporary dance.

Founded in 1974 by Alan Stone, Chicago Opera Theater has carved a significant place for itself in the operatic life of Chicago and has reached an audience of hundreds of thousands through its main stage performances, community engagement, education programs in Chicago Public Schools, as well as its renowned Young Artist Program. Chicago Opera Theater presents first-class productions of operatic repertoire, ranging from the great works of the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries to intimate and innovative contemporary productions by top-tier, internationally renowned conductors, directors and designers.

PROGRAM INFO
Composer - Astor Piazzolla
Libretto - Horacio Ferrer
Maria De Buenos Aires
April 20 at 7:30 p.m., April 24 at 7:30 p.m., April 26 at 7:30 p.m., and April 28 at 3:00 p.m. at the Harris Theater for Music & Dance
Spanish with English supertitles

Conductor: ANDREAS MITISEK
Director: ANDREAS MITISEK
Production Design ANDREAS MITISEK
Video Designer: Adam Flemming
Lighting Designer: Dan Weingarten

Role Cast (Alphabetical)
El Payador Gregorio Gonzales
El Duende Gregorio Luke
Maria Peabody Southwell

Prices range from $35 to $125. Reduced prices are offered to subscribers. First-time subscribers receive a 30% discount on partial-season tickets (2 shows). Tickets can be purchased by calling the COT Box Office at 312-704-8414 or by going online to the COT website at www.chicagooperatheater.org.

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