PICK! ASR Opera ~~ Unfinished Business at West Bay Opera

By Jeff Dunn

For a long time, I was wondering if Corpus Evita was the correct title for West Bay’s latest offering in Palo Alto. It’s a sequence of scenes—roughly connected, suffused with contradictory elements—that swirl in the past, present, and future about the troubled 1974-76 presidency of Argentina’s Isabel Perón and the legacy of Juan Perón’s previous wife, Eva.

It was Isabel’s mistakes and ouster that began the murderous military dictatorship of 1976-83, El Proceso. In the opera’s strongest scene, Isabel begs for forgiveness, an act the now 93-year-old has never performed publicly. The opera’s librettist claims that were she to do so, it “would be cathartic for a society that’s still divided about what happened back then.” Yet the opera is not named Isabel, not Eva, but Corpus Evita, the embalmed corpse of Eva.  Why?

Scene 5. (L-R): Isabel, Ministro, Ghosts of Eva and Perón. Background, members of WBO chorus. Photo credit Otak Jump.

The answer gradually dawned on me: There are two Eva Peróns. There is the myth of Evita as “patron saint of public spending, labor pampering, and largesse to the underprivileged” (The Atlantic, October 1952). Then there is her literal, trundled-about corpse representing a past that can never be recreated. The opera depicts both with two singers, respectively, lovely soprano Jessica Sandridge and the imposing Laure de Marcellus. But the title betrays the creators’ preference. In the words of the librettist, “People keep returning to the myth and they keep voting for it. And politicians keep handing out benefits that the country’s economy can ill afford, in a never-ending downward spiral.”

… When hope is suffused with nostalgia, as in the Evita myth, the result can be dangerous, unfinished business …

And who are the creators? Lorenz Russo–concept, Carlos Franzetti–music, and Jose Luis Moscovich, West Bay Opera General Director, Music Director, Stage Director–Librettist. All were present at the performance, and there was no question it was a labor of love, resplendently executed by a terrific set of soloists and chorus.

Scene 6. (L-R): Isabel and Ministro’s ghost. Photo credit Otak Jump.

White-suited tenor Patrick Bessenbacher was particularly impressive as sinister “Ministro” Lopez Rega, the Svengali with mystic influence over Isabel. Sara LeMesh was outstanding as Isabel, along with Casey Germain as Perón and Anders Froehlich as the Doctor.

Of all the wonderful aspects of the evening, the most stunning was the set and projection design by Peter Crompton, with gorgeous overlapping projections on three screens. Example: the final scene culminates in an apotheosis of Evita glowing with light with Statue of Liberty rays that suddenly morph to blood red as armed guerillas march out by Sandridge’s side.

Projections showing their magic in “Corpus Evita”. Photo credit Otak Jump.

When hope is suffused with nostalgia, as in the Evita myth, the result can be dangerous, unfinished business. When I heard Fanzetti’s gorgeous orchestrations in a 100-year-old Ravel-like milieu, I was at first confused until I realized they could apply to the Evita and not the Corpus. A bit more modernism in the Corpus music might have been helpful in emphasizing the temporal distinction.

Scene 4. (L-R) Isabel, Ministro, WBO Orchestra, Maestro José Luis Moscovich. Photo credit Otak Jump.

I could not justify in my mind a different, unfinished structural aspect: the abrupt breaks between scene changes, and the intermission break after, not before, a so-called Entr’Acte, a pantomimed scene in a torture chamber.

And finally, I feel a deeper impression would be made on audiences if additional transition music were composed and this compelling opera were performed without a break.


ASR’s Classical Music Section Editor Jeff Dunn is a retired educator and project manager who’s been writing music and theater reviews for Bay Area and national journals since 1995. He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the National Association of Composers, USA. His musical Castle Happy (co-author John Freed), about Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst, received a festival production at the Altarena Theater in 2017. His opera, Finding Medusa, with librettist Madeline Puccioni, was completed in January 2023. Jeff has won prizes for his photography, and is also a judge for the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs.

ProductionCorpus Evita. Based on a concept by Lorenz Russo.
Music byCarlos Franzetti
Libretto & Stage Direction by Jose Luis Moscovich
Producing CompanyWest Bay Opera
Production DatesThru Feb 25th
Production AddressLucie Stern Auditorium
Telephone(650) 424-9999
Tickets$43- $115
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!