If the highly nontraditional Long Beach Opera has a tradition, it's to consistently surprise its audience. Director Andreas Mitisek has delighted in staging operas in unexpected venues like swimming pools and parking garages, and now he carries his mission of unconventionality to perhaps the greatest extremes yet, setting Maria de Buenos Aires, the 1968 tango operita by composer Astor Piazzolla and librettist Horacio Ferrer, not in the moody 1930s and '40s but during Argentina's notorious Dirty War (1976-1983). This infamous period of terrorism was perpetrated by ruthless military juntas that tortured and killed more than 30,000 innocent people, among them young mothers whose babies they subsequently kidnapped. Maria, a prostitute who suffers, dies and is reborn in mythic mystery, is, in Piazzolla's and Ferrer's vision, the embodiment of the tango, which to Piazzolla was far more than a dance. With his unique harmonies — lyrical and abstract, romantic and surreal, erotic and foreboding — the tango becomes the spirit of Argentina. And in LBO's new and controversial staging, Maria de Buenos Aires becomes the spirit of, in Mitisek's words, “love, hope, fear and resilience, a victim of the Dirty War who is reborn in the protests of the thousands of 'Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo' whose children 'disappeared.'” The cast features mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell in the title role, with baritone Gregorio Gonzales as El Payador and Latin American expert Gregorio Luke as El Duende. Note: Be prepared for some disturbingly graphic scenes of torture and nudity, and for the usual LBO standard of excellence. Warner Grand Theater, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Sun., Jan. 29, 2 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 4, 8 p.m.; $29-$150. (562) 432-5934, longbeachopera.org.

Sun., Jan. 29, 2 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 4, 8 p.m., 2012

LA Weekly