Maria de Buenos Aires

Maria de Buenos Aires Leigh Warren State operaPresented by Leigh Warren and Dancers and the State Opera of South Australia
Reviewed Friday 15th October 2010

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 7:30pm Saturday 16th, then Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd October
Duration: 1hr 50mins incl interval
Tickets: adult $49/conc $39/groups 8+ $32
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

The music of Argentinean composer, Astor Piazzolla, continues to find new admirers and to steadily grow in popularity. The infectious rhythm of the tango runs through his music, but he has raised it from dance music to an art form. In another bold collaborative move Leigh Warren and Dancers and Timothy Sexton and the State Opera have combined to stage Piazzolla’s remarkable tango opera. This is a complex and difficult work but this group of fine producers and performers has risen to the challenge to present a sensational performance that had the audience completely enthralled throughout and speaking in glowing terms afterwards.

A personal highlight for me was seeing and hearing a bandoneón played live. I have seen them on television and heard recordings before, but never live. It transpired that this was just one more of the challenges faced and overcome by this team. Nobody in Australia plays one. The Argentinean Ambassador enabled Santiago Polimeni to come to Adelaide from Argentina just for this production. That was quite a coup for the Musical Director, Timothy Sexton. The remainder of the musicians were drawn from his excellent ensemble, the Adelaide Art Orchestra, and he conducted from the piano. They played on stage, just like a tango band in an Argentinean bar, which is exactly where the opera is set. The music was superbly played by this small group of top line musicians under Sexton’s unerring guidance.

This is where Nigel Levings came in, as both set and lighting designer, creating the bar out of large, heavy, wooden crates assembled in various ways to create the bar, walls and ceiling, filling it with chairs and tables and adding a lighting plot that was of interest in its own right. Kathryn Sproul’s costumes fitted the bill wonderfully, suggesting the colourful costumes of Latin America, but allowing the sleaziness of the bar and its inhabitants to show through.

There is not a continuous narrative, as one finds in most operas but, rather, 16 scenes that slowly build up a picture of Maria, her life and death, both through her own words and those of the people that knew her. Maria is now dead, but her memory is conjured up and we see her through the memories of others. The work is a combination of poetry and prose, by Horacio Ferrer, set to Piazzolla’s seductive music.

Maria is played by Cherie Boogaart, whose beautiful voice and wide range, along with assured acting skills, made her ideal for the role. Not only that, but she also proved to be a good dancer, tangoing several times during the performance. Mark Oates sang the other role, that of the cantor. His rich, full voice was a fine complement to that of Boogaart. The popular Venezuelan born actor, Alirio Zavarce, was the narrator, completing the trio providing the spoken words and songs. Although it was in Spanish the performance, along with the assistance of the programme notes, was easy to follow as we saw Maria’s fall into the seedy underworld, prostitution and death.

Members of the State Opera Chorus were also on hand, with Kristen Hardy, Rachel McCall, Gabi Okie, Carol Young, Mark Stojani, Andy Turner, Nic lock and Lachlan Scott taking the roles of patrons whenever they were not singing, remaining always fully involved with the action and even joining in the dancing.

Having mentioned the dancing, Choreographer, Leigh Warren, and his dancers, Bec Jones, Lizzie Vilmanis, Zaimon Vilmanis and Kevin Privett, along with tango dancer, Andrew Gill, embraced the physicality of the tango and the atmosphere of the era and location, and presented a fascinating and sensual series of routines, perfectly fitting the style of the opera. Brilliantly stylish and impeccably executed, it was an absolute joy to watch. Contortionist, Jascha Boyce, and magician, James James, added yet more excitement to the visual feast. There was so much to hear and to see that you will find, as I did, that you would like to see it at least once more, perhaps several times. You will need to be quick to get tickets to this one as word is already going around like wildfire from those lucky enough to have already seen this marvellous production and, no doubt, all involved must be very satisfied with a job well done and the outstanding success of a production that is well out of the ordinary and, therefore, a risk taken that really paid off. Estupendo!

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Check out some photos from the opening night drinks

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