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Gustavo Leone’s ‘Absurdopera’ a comedic gem

KevNewell Michelle Areyzagstar world premiere Gustavo Leone’s “Absurdopera.” | HANDOUT PHOTO

Kevin Newell and Michelle Areyzaga star in the world premiere of Gustavo Leone’s “Absurdopera.” | HANDOUT PHOTO

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‘Gustavo Leone’s ‘Absurdopera’

Highly recommended

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:47PM

Gustavo Leone’s “Absurdopera”


Latino Music Festival

Emanuele Andrizzi, conductor

WHERE: Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse

WHEN: Repeats Nov. 22 at 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $20 and $25

INFO: (773) 381-4554 ;

The Eighth Chicago Latino Music Festival is one of the most ambitious in the always adventurous program’s history and also the best organized. Some 22 concerts are being presented throughout the city over two months with plenty of variety and space and clarity around each presentation.

A centerpiece this year is the long-awaited world premiere of Gustavo Leone’s “Absurdopera,” a pairing of two compact and highly successful one-act chamber operas musically animating two absurdist plays by Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. Leone, a highly popular professor of composition and music theory at Loyola University of Chicago, is artistic co-director of the festival, along with fellow composer and Latin music evangelist Elbio Barilari. Receiving his graduate training and doctorate at the University of Chicago from Ralph Shapey and Shulamit Ran, Leone’s music combines the rigor of those Midway composers with his Argentinean upbringing, career as a professional guitarist and his fascination and experience with theater music.

All of these areas come together clearly, effectively, amusingly and, as appropriate, hilariously in this 90-minute (including one 15-minute intermission) double-bill. Scoring is for a conducted string quartet with five singers in the Ionesco and one singer and one actor in the Beckett. The young Kaia String Quartet, apprenticing at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb with the Avalon Quartet, and led here by the young Italian and Roosevelt University conductor Emanuel Andrizzi, were wholly in touch with Leone’s ideas and effective musical language Thursday night at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park.

Beckett wrote his “Words and Music” in late 1961 as a BBC radio play with music written by a cousin, John Beckett, but then withdrew the work. Two “characters,” Joe, portrayed by an actor, and Bob, by instrumental performers, perform for an elderly king-like figure called Croak, who does just that for his vocal contributions. American composer Morton Feldman made a musical version with Beckett’s cooperation not long before his death in 1987. Leone goes back to the crispness of the radio play itself having the quartet both accompany certain scenes and answer when Croak wants Bob to “speak” on the themes of love, age, and “the face.” Although Joe, in giving answers of words, also sings, the distinction between the human and instrumental voices is clear and winning even — especially? — in their absurdist spilling of ideas. And with tenor Kevin Newell as Joe/Words and Plasticene performer Brian Shaw as Croak, the performance is very funny, as is the music, not a easy achievement for a composer.

Ionesco, known above all for “Rhinoceros” and “The Bald Soprano,” wrote “The Leader” in 1953 in French and it was not given English language performances until the early 1960s. Leone’s original inspiration came from witnessing as a university student the genuinely absurd mass enthusiasm when the Argentinean military dictatorship invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, bringing further disaster to his native country. Ionesco’s farce on a group of admirers, hardly citizens, being ordered by a radio announcer to get a glimpse of “The Leader” when he may or may not be leading a parade, is given a more conventional treatment in that the singers sing the text and the quartet plays the score but the matching of music, text, story and moral is keen and filled with inventiveness. The interweaving of the antic courtship of a couple who may or may not actually know each other is seamless.

Baritone Michael Cavalieri as The Announcer, Newell and much-admired area soprano Michelle Areyzega as the Young Lovers, and another tenor-soprano pair, John Concepcion and Catalina Cuervo as The Admirers, are all super, as is Loyola professor Sarah Gabel’s rapid and communicative direction in both works. All fit perfectly, with Andrew Lehmkuhl’s lighting, in the intimate and acoustically excellent Mayne Stage space. These accomplished, portable pieces should have a long life.

Twitter: @andrewpatner

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