Stratford 2010 - Evita
Evita has been called a rock opera or, in the terms used here at Stratford, an "electric musical." But if we're going to go by the strict definition of what an opera is, then there's no need for an adjective. It's an opera in that it is all sung with only a few lines of spoken dialogue, and it certainly requires the talents of trained voices. That it uses contemporary musical forms -- or at least contemporary to the time it was written in 1976 -- doesn't disqualify it as an opera any more than the use of jazz does Porgy and Bess or Spanish folk music does in Carmen. (By the way, one of the other similarities Evita has with Carmen is that both of the composers were foreigners writing about other lands and cultures; Bizet was a Frenchman writing about Spanish workers, and Andrew Lloyd Weber is an Englishman writing about an Argentinian power couple.) So it's an opera. And I usually hate operas.
I have sat through several of them and despised them for their convoluted plots, the imponderable language, and the exaggerated characters and vocalizations. But Evita puts it in a different perspective. The plot line is straightforward, there are five major roles, no subplots, the music is both well done and appropriate for both the time and the action. Chilina Kennedy was brilliant as Evita, as was Juan Chioran as Juan Peron. Josh Young, who sang Che, the narrator/commentator, was excellent as well, bringing just the right touch of cynicism to a character that stands in for the people of Argentina and the outside world watching the pageantry of forced enthusiasm for a dictator.
The theme of Evita is, as director Gary Griffin put it in his director's note, "...our need for icons. Why do we worship people like Eva Perón – or, more recently, Princess Diana and Michael Jackson? What is it about us (for we create our icons as much as they fashion themselves) that causes us to invest so deeply in people we know only as public figures?" It's probably a search for something in common with them; after all, the biggest sellers in the magazine racks are the People magazines or the National Enquirers when they show us pictures of celebrities without the make-up and the glitz; when we see Brad Pitt shopping at the grocery store. Evita and the story behind it is that on a scale that touched millions of lives in real ways in a real place in our living memory. And it provides a cautionary tale for our own political celebrities: how soon will someone come up with a version of "Don't Cry For Me, Wasilla"?