5Q: Maria de Buenos Aires

Photo by Douglas Lee Wonders
Photo by Douglas Lee Wonders
“5Q” is an online-only column featuring five questions about stage productions in the Metro Area. Periodically, “5Q” will take the form of an interview with actors, directors, writers, etc. to shed some light on the production process.

A wildly acclaimed cast new to Twin Cities opera audiences, will take the stage for Mill City Summer Opera’s 2017 chosen production Maria de Buenos Aires, by famed tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. This opera is non-traditional in many ways. It’s shorter, features tango, and is produced with a smaller cast of 18, including an orchestra of 11 led by DeMaris, six dancers and one narrator. Set on a rotunda stage, with orchestra members interwoven in the scene and dialogue, Maria de Buenos Aires offers a heightened sense of intimacy. As the story of despair, prostitution and death unfolds, the element of dance along with the sound of the bandoneon, an instrument with a deep and sultry cadence, will evoke an elemental and visceral response.

Set in the 20th century, Maria de Buenos Aires is presented in another historic venue near the river, The Machine Shop. The opera’s usual venue in the Ruins Courtyard of the Mill City Museum is unavailable this year because of extensive restoration work continuing at that site. Mill City Summer Opera’s artistic director David Lefkowich discusses the challenges and pleasures of working on Maria.

Photo by Douglas Lee Wonders

By now people are used to the Mill City ruins as the backdrop for Mill City Summer Opera. But this season you have a change of venue while the ruins are under construction. What’s it like transitioning to a new space? Has anything surprised you about the ease or difficulty of adapting?
David Lefkowich: The move out of the striking Ruins Courtyard into the Machine Shop has provided Mill City Summer Opera with an exciting opportunity to explore a new venue. Of course we are disappointed not to be in the incredible ruins this season. However this experience is allowing us to create something unique for our audience. The Machine Shop is a thrilling space and provides a different sort of drama as the backdrop for our production this season. The question of “will it rain” is something we do not have to contend with this year and I am especially looking forward to a summer of air conditioning.

Maria de Buenos Aires is described as a tango opera. What does that mean? How does Maria differ from what most people expect in an opera?
DL: A “tango opera” is an opera told through music, text, and with tango! It is not strictly an “opera ballet” the way that some of the standard repertory operas are classified. It falls within the tradition of having set dance numbers integral to the story but with the use of tango in lieu of ballet.

It is always difficult to anticipate the expectations of the audience. With this opera, the audience will have Astor Piazzolla’s brilliant music, Horracio Ferrer’s dreamy and surreal Spanish libretto, and some wonderful tango sequences in an incredible setting. While they may be expecting something more traditional, there is enough in this evening to be for everyone to be pleased, entranced, and thrilled.

Photo by Jeff Roffman

Maria de Buenos Aires is the work of an Argentinian composer and Uruguayan-Argentinian librettist, appropriately. We’re not exposed to a lot of works like this from that region of the world. There are some obvious connections, but what do those unique world views add to the world of opera?
DL: For the audience, opera is like a visa or a passport: temporary access to another culture and often a different time period in history. I am someone that likes to explore other countries and cultures. However I would be very bored if I only traveled to a few countries. The opera world tends to focus on producing repertoire mainly in four languages: Italian, French, German, and English. Adding additional languages and compositions from different parts of the world keeps things interesting. The more we can expand and add to the standard repertoire, the better!

Many of the operas that people are familiar with are much older than Maria de Buenos Aires. What does the time frame in which Maria was composed tell us about the story and what’s being portrayed or alluded to on stage?
DL: Many operas in the standard repertoire are from the 19th century and earlier. In contrast, Maria was composed in 1968. The 1960’s were a real renaissance for tango. It seems logical that during a rise in popularity for the tango, an opera featuring tango would be created. This story has themes that are found in many other operas. The story of Maria can be seen as a parallel to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Many operas have similar themes but use different ways of telling the story.

Maria has been described as not only an individual character, but as a symbolic metaphor for many young women who escaped impoverished provinces and as well as a metaphor for the city itself. How do you view the main characters and what they represent?
DL: I believe that the three main characters represent archetypes that are found in many different operas. Maria represents the child, the girl, the city, and even tango itself. In Buenos Aires, many young girls are given the name “Maria” in addition to their given names. In this way, Maria represents all women. She becomes our hero in this story. The Narrator or Duende in this story represents a devil-like character. This is a character that although is not seen by the other characters in the story, has a profound impact on their life.

Maria de Buenos Aires runs at The Machine Shop through July 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to www.millcitysummeropera.org.

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