Review: El Vito!

7 June 2019

Never did I think the question, “Ever had a dream?” and all the self-doubt and fear of rejection which comes with that question, would be so aptly summed up for me by a one-woman operatic show. Mari-Poša, mezzo-soprano, known simply on stage as Maria, delivers a soulful and vocally powerful performance in El Vito!, performed in Melbourne CBD’s quirky and cool Butterfly Club, accompanied by the heartfelt talents of pianist Julian Wade.

For me, heart is what this show is all about, and this was reinforced from the first moment I stumbled through the door. Having been a Melburnian local only for the last year, recently departed of the college bubble and with a terrible sense of direction to top it off, I got lost. Rushing in right on 7pm, apologising profusely to the staff who kindly reassured me, I was immediately taken aback by the fairyland wonder of the Butterfly Club’s twinkling lights and wall-taped nostalgia.

As quietly as I could, I entered the little theatre mid-way through Maria’s first song, the French classic, Habanera from the opera Carmen (I had to google the title but it’s that opera song everyone knows). My first thoughts went something like this: Oh gosh. Why didn’t I read the description properly? I don’t even like opera. But as the show went on, Maria’s passion and love of singing became infectious, and I was almost disappointed when the forty minutes were over.

The show alternates between Maria’s singing and little video clips of a woman called Giada, who disapprovingly smokes a pretend cigarette and makes disapproving remarks about Maria’s life. Again, I came in late, so I thought this figure was her overbearing and doubtful mother, but she’s actually a ‘friend’, the kind who constantly tries “to sabotage everyone around them because they think they know everything”. In either case, Giada serves her purpose. Maria is singing her heart out to extremely demanding songs in French, Spanish and Portuguese, and is incredible, but the punctuated clips of Giada reinforce her feelings of doubt at the end of every song.

The show hits its climax when there are ‘technical difficulties’. Julian pulls back the curtain looking for his singer, a voice from the back asks Maria if she wants to continue. She comes back on stage, and pauses, thumbing the rose in her hand. “No,” she wails softly. “She’s right, I’ll never be good enough.” I only now realise it’s all part of the show. The emotions expressed by Maria are so powerful and potent, even in a few moments, that no audience member could be left doubting their authenticity.

Until this point, there were moments where my own inner Giada came out. The club’s theatre has a small stage: just big enough for Maria and Julian and the piano to fit comfortably. There’s only about eight of us here; the vast majority of seats remain empty. Maria is clearly a classically-trained and talented singer. She’s also middle-aged. All these factors make the pessimist inside of me ask for a moment, “Why is she here singing for eight people? Is it because she still hasn’t ‘made it’?”.

El Vito! shows why none of these questions matter. Julian and the mysterious voice from the back coo softly to Maria, “No Maria. Sing, sing!”. And she does, with triumph. Because she loves it, and that’s all that matters.

As someone who dreams of working in a creative field, I immediately identified with Maria’s doubts and fears. But anyone can relate to this show. We all have dreams, and we all have Giada’s who tell us we can’t do it – whether they’re in our heads or in our lives, or both. El Vito! reminds the audience there is every bit of courage and beauty in chasing your dreams anyway.

El Vito! showed at The Butterfly Club from the 11th of March to the 16th, 2019.


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