Matt Marks and Paul Peers
HERE Arts Center
145 6th Ave
Mata Hari tells the story of historical figure Mata Hari, a dancer/courtesan who was executed by the French during WWI for being a German spy. When we first see Mata Hari, she is decked in jewels and a beautiful gown—a dancer in full glory. But the glory lasts only a moment, as she is soon surrounded by five male soldiers who take everything away from her save a slip. She spends the rest of the opera exposed, in this slip, in a prison cell, talking to the nun who is her keeper and the captain who is set on sending her to her death. Through these exchanges and the recreations of episodes in her life that bloom from them, we learn about all of her exploits, from being abused as a young wife, to having a bevy of important people as lovers, to struggling with money, to losing her young children because of complications from syphilis.
Mata Hari, a speaking role played by a commanding Tina Mitchell, gains our sympathy with ease. It’s not clear from the opera if she is or is not the spy she’s accused of being, but that potential wrong feels minor compared to the clear injustices perpetrated against her by the male soldiers who should be on her side. Mary Mackenzie as the crass nun, and the only other female performer and only female singing voice, wins our support, too, by being the sole supporter of our persecuted hero. Every performer has moments to shine, and the stylistically mixed music by Matt Marks provides a welcome variety to the score. It lives by its own rules, just as Mata Hari did.
photo by Benjamin Heller