Thursday, June 4, 1998

Multimedia work reflects activist’s love of art, life

OPERA: Photographer Tina Modotti’s support for revolution
honored

By Jessica Holt

Daily Bruin Contributor

It is often said that art resembles life resembles art resembles
life. And real life Mexican-Italian photographer, artist and
revolutionary Tina Modotti exemplifies this circular
phenomenon.

Andrea Centazzo’s new multi-media opera, "Tina," pays tribute to
Modotti, making its American debut at the UCLA Freud Playhouse on
June 6 and 7. The artistic homage weaves together musical,
choreographic, literary and the visual aspects, and stars actress
Lumi Cavazos of "Like Water for Chocolate."

"The last line of the opera explains what I think Tina is all
about," director and composer Centazzo explains. "She says, ‘My
life has been my art.’"

Indeed Tina Modotti led an extraordinary and passionate life.
Born in Italy in 1896, she soon moved to the United States to
become a silent film actress in Hollywood’s early ’20s. She then
traveled to Mexico City with mentor-photographer Edward Weston.

"The opera starts with Tina going down to Mexico City, which was
like the promised land for artists of that time," Centazzo
says.

In Mexico City, Modotti started an artistic endeavor as a
photographer. As the communist movement grew, so too did Tina’s
passion to display her own political passion through her
photography. She began shooting "photography of protest" that
showed social strife unique for that era.

"Tina was very passionate, courageous and joyful," lead actress
Lumi Cavazos reflects. "She loved life, art and her own self. Tina
is a character that potentially everybody has. She is like a call
to wake up that inner courage and that inner power of will; to not
stop for anything but follow your ideals and heart."

Following her heart, Modotti abandoned photography after seven
years and dedicated her life to political struggle. Arriving in
Moscow, she became a leading force in the communist party and
worked as a logistics coordinator in the Spanish Civil War.

"She’s a woman that still scares people a little bit," Centazzo
says. "She was so free, so passionate, so out of the border of the
general behavior that she was an avant-garde woman."

The opera captures Modotti’s free spirit by crossing all genres
of media. In 16 temporal-free frames, her life unfolds through
letters and poetry written by famed poet Pablo Neruda.

"The music is the language that blends all together. Lumi is
acting on a background of music. The singers are singing to the
music, and the dancers are dancing to the music," Centazzo
clarifies. "The video is like a commentary with footage from that
period, Tina’s pictures, pictures of Weston. It’s like a moving
set. It will be very intense."

Mirroring Modotti’s life requires such intensity, as her life
seems tailor- made for myth-making. Disillusioned after the Civil
War in Spain, she returned to Mexico, where she died in 1942 under
mysterious circumstances. The official story claims Modotti died of
a heart attack at age 46.

"In some sense I hope it was a natural death, heart attack as
they said. On the other hand there is a suspicion," Centazzo
speculates. "This suspicion makes the death a perfect death for
such a kind of life. A death and a mystery."

Tina’s life and death thus has become fodder for stories and
legends. In Mexico especially, Modotti has come to represent a
passion for love, life, and the country itself.

"She’s connecting me to my roots," the Mexican-born Cavazos
says, wistfully smiling. "She’s always talking about Mexico and how
much she loves Mexico. In a way she’s bringing me back to my
country, and it’s like seeing a beautiful vision of Mexico."

Modotti’s inspiring life not only has affected Centazzo and
Cavazos but seems to resonate with all those who come in contact
with her.

"All the people that have been involved somehow with Tina -
scholars, art lovers, photographers – have gained such a great
influence from this lady," Centazzo muses. "I don’t think it’s just
her heart but her life."

"From her love of photography, of art, of men and of people, she
was such a passionate person," Centazzo continues. "When you start
to study her, you are caught."

And perhaps befitting for a woman turned myth turned legend
turned subject of an opera, "Tina" may soon make it to the big
screen.

"I really think that Tina’s a very good subject for a movie,"
Centazzo says. "Last year Madonna announced plans for a movie, and
then the project fell apart. We are probably going to do a movie
with Lumi."

"I want to do the movie," Cavazos excitedly interjects. "She had
a great life and I think everyone will be inspired by her
life."

OPERA: Andrea Centazzo’s "Tina" plays at the UCLA Freud
Playhouse on June 6 and 7 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $10 for
students with UCLA ID. For more information, call (310)
825-2101.

UCLA Freud Playhouse

Lumi Cavazos (left) plays photographer and revolutionary Tina
Modotti in director Andrea Centazzo’s multimedia opera "Tina."

UCLA Freud Playhouse

Actress Lumi Cavazos stars in Andrea Centazzo’s opera
"Tina."