Have you ever heard of a tango operita? That's what composer Astor Piazzolla calls Mar'a de Buenos Aires, his hybrid opera that blends tango music, dance, poetry, and singing. "
The Gotham Chamber Opera's production of Astor Piazzolla's María de Buenos Aires (presented Sept. 26-29 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts) was ravishing in all respects. It featured gorgeous tango music (played by the Gotham Chamber Opera Orchestra, conducted by Neal Goren), breathtaking dancing by Parsons Dance, entrancing scenic projections (by Jerome Sirlin), and sensual singing by American contralto Nicole Piccolomini, whose fierce chesty sound was complemented by the velvety beauty of Texan Ricardo Herrera's bass baritone.
Staged and choreographed by modern dancer David Parsons, with assistance from tango dance expert Pablo Pugliese, this production of the tango operita (a term coined by Piazzolla when he created the work in 1968) was all about mood and emotion. It didn't matter that Horacio Ferrer's libretto, which includes spoken poetry, was performed in the original Spanish with no supertitles and that the program offered only a convoluted plot synopsis. All you needed to do was realize that the opera is about a prostitute in Buenos Aires and let the show's rich visual and aural sensations ensnare and transport you to the soulful underworld of Argentinean slums. The haunting melancholy of the journey proved enchanting.
In the extensive choreography, Parsons rids the tango of its characteristic percussiveness and fussy, small actions, allowing the dance to breathe. Out of tango's basic elements he crafts smooth, spacious phrases punctuated by stunning lifts with tilted torsos and splayed legs. And when the tempos get wilder, the choreography retains its expansiveness, the speed simply adding to the excitement. Parsons' brand of tango conveys more visual attractiveness than fiery passion yet provides a dazzling theatrical motor for this first-rate interpretation of Piazzolla's musical masterpiece.