MADRID, SPAIN (1980)
One month before a Stigwood/Prince Evita premiered in Vienna, the first non-Prince-directed production of Evita opened in Madrid. This was a riskier proposition than the other companies had been because Madrillenos have traditionally avoided musicals like the plague. But producer/adapter Ignacio Artime had also staged Superstar there to great success and Isabel and Juan Peron had made Madrid their home for many years.
The Madrid production replicated the others in some ways, but added some interesting variations. Magaldi was much more realistically portrayed, the actor garbed in a natty grey suit, homburg and white ascot. "Our dancers are horrible and I wish we had Bob Gunton," said Artime. He noted that there is practically no tradition of classical ballet in Spain, the basis of much Broadway-style choreography. He also felt that opera singer Julio Catania more often went for the note rather than the lyric behind it, when playing Peron.
The dancing was a bit inferior to the Broadway/London musical norm, but the cast was larger and the passion greater. Paloma San Basilio, a very popular singer in Spain, was a luminous, stunning Eva, projecting the same charisma that bound Eva's admirers to her when she visited Madrid on her Rainbow Tour. Patxi Andion played Che as intelligently and forcefully as Clarence Darrow, patiently arguing his case, while beneath the surface lay the threat of violence.
There was no orchestra; the music was done on tape because there were not enough musicians in the correct union to play all eleven performances per week (the same thing happened in Mexico City). This allowed a lavish set of orchestrations to be done for 54 musicians, by an Argentine who added local instruments and put a true Latin flavor into the score. In addition to a large stage, the actors used a semicircular ramp around what had been the orchestra pit, now holding members of the audience. The sensitive translation by Artime and director Jaime Azpilicueta was impressive; they called "High Flying Adored" "Ya Estan a tus Pies" (They are at your feet), a brilliant re-interpretation of an untranslatable idiom.
Paloma seemed to have no problems with vocal strain (she did seven or eight of the performances each week), but she did have one fear. "I think maybe Isabel Peron might come backstage one night with a gun," she said, more than half-seriously. Isabel, generally considered insane, had returned to Madrid after four years of house arrest after she was overthrown as President of Argentina. Paloma also said she felt Madrillenos liked the show because the Eva as presented on stage was very similar to the image of Eva in their own culture.
Perhaps it was the language, perhaps the locale, perhaps the authenticity of the cast, but seeing Evita in Madrid was the closest thing to going back in time and seeing the real thing.
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