Brave and boobilicious: Chicago Opera Theater's Maria de Buenos Aires | Bleader

Brave and boobilicious: Chicago Opera Theater's Maria de Buenos Aires

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Peabody Southwell looms large over Maria.
  • Liz Lauren
  • Peabody Southwell looms large over Maria.
In a little unofficial polling after the opening-night performance of Chicago Opera Theater's Maria de Buenos Aires last week, I asked my husband what he thought about Maria losing her top for a couple of scenes.

"Very nice," he said.

But did it work, you know, dramatically?

"Yes," he said. "She has very nice breasts."

I thought it was odd when COT general director Andreas Mitisek told the Sun-Times that his leading lady, mezzo Peabody Southwell—who, by the way, also has an outstanding set of pipes—was cast, in part, because she's "willing to go into tough emotional realms onstage."

Intense emotion is a pretty routine requirement in opera.

In retrospect, I think I know what he meant. It's probably the same thing the Tribune's John von Rhein, in the course of a rave review, referred to as a "brave" performance.

Mitisek's version of Astor Piazzolla's tango "operita" sets it during Argentina's "Dirty War" of the late 1970s. Maria is "mingling with the military" in hopes of learning what they've done with her husband, who's among the "disappeared," when her boobs pop into view.

What to make of it? A woman onstage showing a strategic amount of bosom can be powerful and seductive. She's in charge of her cleavage. A woman singing her heart out with her breasts exposed while everyone else onstage is fully clothed is more likely to telegraph extreme vulnerability. And that's no doubt the point Mitisek is making, as Maria shifts from seductress to victim.

But here's a question that popped to mind, right along with the view: Will we ever see a tenor (or baritone, or bass) making his way through an aria, schlong hanging out?

In the next scene Maria, still bare breasted, is raped and tortured. The audience is transfixed: Horrors! And will her pants come off? It would make perfect dramatic sense if they did.

I'm not giving that one away. But on the basis of my highly scientific survey, I'm more convinced than ever that sex can save opera—especially if it's paired with great music, thrilling performances, and very smart productions.

Maria de Buenos Aires still aches for a decent English translation (or adaptation) of its libretto, but this is a smashing show. It continues at 7:30 PM tonight and Friday, April 26, and at 3 PM Sunday, April 28, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets, $35-$125, are available at chicagooperatheater.org.

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