“Evita” by Rice and Lloyd Webber, produced by Vancouver Opera

I went to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this evening to take in a bit of culture, but came home mildly disappointed.
The problem with “Evita” is that you come to the end, and the wonderful “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” is sung, and there’s no one to cry for. Give credit to lyricist Tim Rice for realism, but Eva Peron was a powerful woman who did not elicit many of the softer emotions. In this production she is played brilliantly by Caroline Bowman, who swirls, entices and tangoes her way through the show. She is especially impressive as the teenage Eva, bright, naïve, and worldly at the same time. Unfortunately, most of the music she sings is harsh and powerful, so we only see one side of her talent. Except for “Don’t Cry for Me,” of course.
The only heart-wrenching song in the whole musical is “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” sung movingly by local singer Shiannon Chan-Kent as Peron’s Mistress after Eva unceremoniously supplants her. This song, (besides “Don’t Cry for Me” and parts of “You Must Love Me”), is also one of the few tuneful numbers in the show.
This opera is a lesson in the art (or otherwise) of Recitativo secco (dry recitative), “sung with a free rhythm dictated by the accents of the words.” I think that the problem Tim Rice had with this material is that there were too many things he wanted to say, too much history to cover and not enough emotional material to show us to move our emotions. Add this to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s penchant, later in his career, for stretching his tunes into the “interesting” (as opposed to “tuneful”) end of the spectrum, and you get a lot of meandering speeches set to meandering notes which never quite turn into tunes. Must be hell for the singers to learn.
The character of Che is problematic as well. Che is all sorts of fun: cynical, direct, humorous. However, his role is that of Everyman. He has no real stake in the action, and thus very little emotional connection. No matter how much energy and feeling Ramin Karimloo puts into the role, we can’t really warm to him.
Notable in the choreography was the men’s chorus, who sing and dance with equal enthusiasm and skill. Their military precision was spectacular in one song, the name of which I cannot find, because the 50-page program had room for 26 pages of the names of opera donors, but strangely neglected a list of the songs and who sings them.
I have to comment on the setting and technical design as well, because this is one of those modern shows that actually credits a “Projection Designer.” I have to say the constructivist set (“Evita, the concert of her life”) functioned perfectly, as a bunch of bare rolling platforms and rock concert lighting towers are likely to do. The projections were impressive in their size and complexity, but fall victim to historical accuracy as well. The era was bleak, the clothes were dull and shoddy and all the photographic and moving images were in black and white. As a result (apart from Evita’s costumes), we received very little of the pomp and splendor that we expect from an opera company, and get little impact from the extensive projection element.
And all wrapped up by the strangest ending line I have ever heard. “…only the pedestal was completed, when Evita’s body disappeared for 17 years…”
…and that was it. The perfect image for the whole production. Wonderfully performed by great performers, but basically unmoving, leaving a rather strange aftertaste, for most of which I blame the material and the writers.
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until Sunday. Perhaps not quite worth the $155 ticket price for a decent seat.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Of course, the interesting way to look at Eva Peron is to see her as a rabble-rousing demagogue who appealed to the masses to wrench power from the ruling cadre, and then lived and acted like royalty ever after. And no one will ever be sure whether she did anything positive for the poor who supported her. Does this sound like anyone we know?

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