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Andreas Mitisek on the meaning behind his latest production, ‘María de Buenos Aires’

Andreas Mitisek

Andreas Mitisek

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Updated: April 8, 2013 4:40PM

James Baldwin once wrote, “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” I believe that every great work of art offers multiple paths to different stories, giving us the opportunity to question all of our answers.

This spring, Chicago Opera Theater presents “María de Buenos Aires,” an operita set in Argentina composed by Astor Piazzolla with lyrics by Horacio Ferrer. Piazzolla and Ferrer mention no specific time period for their work, and “María de Buenos Aires” first premiered in 1968 — closer in time to Argentina’s Dirty War of the 1970s and early ’80s than to the ’30s and ’40s, when it’s often set in other productions. During the Dirty War, the country was under control of the military juntas. As many as 30,000 people “disappeared” during this time of state terrorism, while many more were victims of torture and abuse.

Most productions of “María” emphasize dancing, since the music is in Piazzolla’s signature Nuevo Tango style. Everything in these productions revolves around the idea that “tango is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” But I think there’s more to this story. Piazzolla took the tango off the dance floor, took it to a deeper level. He intensified everything about it — the harmonies, the form, the noises, the jerks — and created a revolution within the tango. I think Ferrer’s poetry is similarly metaphorical and wide open to interpretations.

Considering these facts, I decided to delve deeper into the soul of this work and give it a contemporary meaning beyond clichés and stereotypes. Our María represents the passion of the Argentine women who were as seductive as the tango itself, while still resilient and strong enough to overcome dictatorship in a country dominated by machismo culture. We set our production during the Dirty War, taking the idea of the tango to its most brutal extreme — a dance of torture, covered in blood, danced by the highest echelons of society and power. In our “María,” the tango is a dance of life and death.

Our story is a passion play about María, “forgotten among all women.” Throughout, María embraces life in obscurity, is condemned to death, sleepwalks through scenes of violence, meets her murderers, dives into an underworld of the absurd and surreal and is finally reborn. In a grander sense, she represents the struggle and aspirations of a whole nation, reflecting Latin America’s struggle for democracy through the 20th century.

Piazzolla’s “María de Buenos Aires” is, in my view, the ultimate metaphor for the heart and soul of Argentina and also for love, hope, fear and resilience. In our production, María falls victim to the Dirty War, but she is reborn in the protests of the thousands of “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” the women whose children disappeared (today, they’re known as the “Desaparecidos”). It is a paradox that those who were treated the harshest by the dictators remained the strongest — it was these mothers and others like them whose fight for justice eventually brought the military to its knees.

We celebrate the fight for freedom and dedicate our production to all the “Desaparecidos.”

“María de Buenos Aires” plays at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph) April 20-28. Tickets ($35-$125) are available at or by calling (312) 704-8414.

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