Spiritual Leader of the Nation:
Eva ‘Evita’ Perón of Argentina
Officially María Eva Duarte de Perón, known as Eva Perón and affectionately nicknamed Evita, this pivotal Argentinian figure not only won her nation’s heart in her short lifetime, but also had a major impact on the country’s politics. With the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical Evita touring North America in 2013, discover the life of the ‘spiritual leader of Argentina’.
Born in 1919, Evita grew up in rural Argentina in a village called Los Toldos (where there is now a museum situated in the house of her birth). Her mother was the mistress of Juan Duarte and Evita was the youngest of five children from this relationship. Eventually her father abandoned this second family for his legal one, leaving Evita’s mother in financial hardships. Eager to make a name and fortune for herself, Evita left for Buenos Aries at the age of 15.
Evita is celebrated in Argentina for her passion and commitment towards the working class in Argentinian politics. Although she youthfully dreamed of becoming an actress, it was meeting her future husband, Juan Perón, which would change the direction of her life. At the time of their meeting Juan was the Secretary of Labour and Social Welfare, and aspired to become the President. Marrying in 1945, the two worked together to campaign for Juan’s presidency and were immensely popular with the working class because of their focus on workers’ rights and welfare. Many elite figures were reportedly threatened by this, and consequentially sanctioned Juan’s arrest before the election. However, after hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in front of the Government house demanding his release, he was soon freed, allowing him to gain victory in the Presidential Election of 1946.
Although holding no official political title other than First Lady, Evita was reportedly the Secretary of Labour ‘in everything but name’. She actively and passionately campaigned for workers’ rights, social welfare and higher wages, and was often made public appearances in places such as hospitals and factories, gaining further support. She was also renowned for her charity work, and even started her own organization called the Eva Perón Foundation, which helped children from disadvantaged backgrounds gain scholarships and financial assistance. On top of this, Evita was a supporter of women’s rights, and she is considered to have been influential in the gaining of women’s suffrage in 1947. Evita created the Female Peronist Party, further helping women become more active in politics in Argentina.
With incredible popularity and the nation behind her, Evita considered running for Vice President under her husband in the 1952 elections. This caused tremendous political controversy, with the Argentinian military and the upper class officials outraged at the proposal, while her vast number of supporters literally cheered in their millions at a mass rally, encouraging her to officialise her candidacy. Several days after this rally Evita announced over the radio that she would not run as Vice President. Unknown to her at the time, Evita had advanced cervical cancer and feeling her health degenerating she was unsure whether she had the endurance for the campaign. Instead she continued to support her husband, helping him secure his re-election in June 1952. A little over a month later, she passed away and the country mourned her death. In a ceremony after this sad day, Evita was given the official title, ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’.
Evita inspired and changed a nation, and the love held towards her can still be felt in Argentina. In an attempt to capture this story and share it with the world, many artists and writers have used Evita as the subject of their work. One such project was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1976 Broadway Evita. With the lyrics written by Tim Rice, this musical was an international success and songs such as ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’ have become a part of musical history. This production was recently revived in Broadway in 2012, and has commenced a North American Tour throughout 2013. Re-exploring the life and influence of this national icon and receiving critical acclaim, Evita is ensuring that the world remembers the passion of Eva Perón, a woman who will forever be remembered as the spiritual leader of Argentina.
EVITA is live on stage presented by Dallas Summer Musicals April 15-27 at the Music Hall at Fair Park.
Watch a sneak peek by clicking here!
For more information about the show and to get tickets, visit www.dallassummermusicals.org.
Article By Andrew Kingsford-Smith