Contempo, the University of Chicago’s contemporary chamber music collective, tackled history and reinvention in an ambitious performance at the Logan Center on Saturday night.
“We couldn’t acknowledge bodies because there were no bodies,” said Gustavo Leone, a professor of music at Loyola University Chicago, in the pre-performance lecture on recent Argentinian history. In the 1950s and sixties, Argentina underwent a series of coups d’Ã©tat. The unrest continued into the 1970s as death and oppression befell the Argentinean people in the infamous “dirty war.” “You could not find closure,” as Leone acknowledged, “That is the story of that generation of Argentineans and also the story of ‘Antigone.’ ” In “Antigone,” Sophocles’ heroine resists her uncle’s decree in order to claim her right to properly bury her dead brother.
Contempo then performed Jorge Liderman’s operatic adaptation of “Antigone,” “Antigona Furiosa,” in which old ideas found new meaning in an Argentinean setting. Alexander Gelman, the Producing Artistic Director of Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, described the piece as working “on the inherent tension between current events and ancient themes. ‘Antigone’ is, unfortunately, eternal. It is a struggle between cynicism and an attempt to survive.”
That perennial battle was highlighted by the bereaved, lyrical voice of Julia Bentley, who played Antigone. In contrast, the parts of Creon and his male chorus were biting and staccato, as if to emphasize their tyranny. As the lights came up, the tension of the opera’s final moments hung in the air. The show was over, but the political story was unresolved.
After intermission, the Pablo Aslan Quintet took the stage, led by Aslan on the double bass. While the unique blend of jazz and tango helped to disperse the gloom, the music that jumped out of their instruments was no modern composition. Aslan transcribed the music of Astor Piazzolla’s self-maligned 1959 album “Take Me Dancing!” in order to bring the forgotten album to a modern, and perhaps more receptive, audience.
Jazz tango hadn’t caught on in 1959, and in 2013 it hasn’t yet fared much better. But maybe that’s all right. Art, as well as history, has no definitive beginning or end. As long as stories are being shared, in Aslan’s words, “it all kind of circulates between you and us.”