With the rise of populism in various countries around the world (Hungary, Poland, India, United States, Italy, etc.) it is worth seeing “Evita” in Cambridge at the Hamilton Family Theatre. It’s a very good production and touches on the nature of populism, the irrational belief people might have that a narcissistic, corrupt, self-serving figure like Evita Peron (and a certain orange-haired American politician) will save the nation, bring social justice and equality, and stick it to those educated, rich, smart-alecky elites that control the media and preside over government bureaucracies.
Regardless of the politics, it’s a fascinating story, and they could have written an entire second opera on what happened to Eva’s body– and Juan Peron– after her death, and, of course, the corpse of the Argentinian economy.
An object lesson in mass media as well: the people thought Eva was saintly because she created a foundation and personally wrote checks to poor people who lined up to see her. The specific stories made great anecdotes, with saturated media coverage, but most of the money probably ended up in the pockets of Juan and Eva Peron. There is no reason to not account for the income and spending except to hide where the money went.
There is a bit of a drive out there to rehabilitate her image, and argue that Rice’s lyrics for “Evita” are based on a rather biased biography. It is probably true that she was not as bad as her enemies made her out to be, but there is ample evidence to suggest that her charitable works were never not substantially self-serving even if she did promote unions that bettered the lives of working class individuals in Argentina at the time– and promoted her husband to the presidency and, she hoped, herself to the vice-presidency.
There’s a bit of a feminist angle to the “rehabilitation” of women of historical importance like Josephine, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and Evita. Most of the time, yes, the negatives stories have been exaggerated over time, but the essential details of their lives remain the same. And in some cases, the “rehabilitation” glosses over historical facts in order to cleanse their reputations. Marie Antoinette was involved in conspiracies to restore her husband to the throne; Josephine did not inspire Napoleon’s great strategies or legislative accomplishments, Cleopatra reign was oppressive, and Evita was a self-centered narcissist who used her sexuality to achieve her position of privilege under the Peronist regime.