The story of a person living in the streets of a merciless town. A story of violence, precociously experienced and marking the person’s outlook on life. A story of seduction, where the seducer is a musical instrument, and specifically the Bandoneon. These short sentences might summarize the plot of María de Buenos Aires, but also the early life of the opera’s composer, Astor Piazzolla.
It was particularly during the years Piazzolla spent in New York with his family – and certainly not in the most exclusive boroughs of the city – that young Astor had to fight for his life. He had been taught boxing by his father, and was certainly able to defend himself. He was not unacquainted with physical pain and life’s hardships; as a child, he had undergone several surgeries for bone problems, and, even though the last surgery proved resolutive, this experience left him with a feeling that life was hard, and that one had to fight for it and in it.
In this bleak context, a special light came to Astor Piazzolla’s life when he first “met” a bandoneon. An uncle of Astor was visiting New York together with him, and the boy was enthralled by the sight of that instrument in a shop window. It was a second-hand instrument, whose price could be afforded by the family – a mere eighteen dollars; Astor’s father, Vicente, who had Italian origins but whose heart was already Argentinian, was impressed by his son’s interest in music and, particularly, in an instrument which is almost identified with the Argentinian music tradition.
The bandoneon, similar in appearance and sound to an accordion, had come to Argentina as an immigrant in turn. Just as the Piazzolla family had Italian roots but came to represent the Argentinian soul like few others, so did the Bandoneon: created in Germany by Heinrich Band, it had crossed the Atlantic with a purpose very different from the use it would eventually find. It was, in fact, a “sacred” instrument, conceived as a portable, marching organ, suited for accompanying religious processions and festivals. From this exquisitely sacred function, the bandoneon became the identifying instrument for a quite different kind of worship. Brought to South America by European emigrants, it quickly became the iconic voice of the tango, as performed in the milongas, the “churches” of the tango.
Here again we have a parallel between Piazzolla’s life experience and that narrated in María de Buenos Aires: in a fashion which can strike as slightly blasphemous at times, or at least very bizarre, the sphere of the sacred and that of the “very secular” continuingly intersect.
Still, the true interpretation of Piazzolla’s operita, which is a kind of hyper homage to the world of tango, is not to be limited to the purposefully scandalous details of the libretto or to the desecrating titles of certain scenes of the work.
The key, indeed, is tango itself, conceived – as hinted before – in the fashion of a liturgy. This not only implies that, for tango enthusiast, this dance has become almost a religion. It also implies that the world of tango – with its rules, its steps, its roles, its ceremonies – is also a way for finding a meaning to life. This meaning is found in love and beauty; of course, love here is a very sensual kind of love, and beauty is somewhat restricted to the elegance of movement and to the hierarchization of roles and steps. Still, there is more to tango than a “mere dance”, and there is an aspiration to infinity, to transcendence, which is not easy to grasp for foreigners – who might be tempted to see just the patina, the slight varnish of sensuousness, neglecting what this stands for. Stealing concepts from Søren Kierkegaard’s interpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, we might say that an obsession for seduction is but a way to express the infinite longing for the infinite, i.e. the first expression of transcendence.
Thus, what appears as blasphemy in María de Buenos Aires is, at least, “more than that”; and, perhaps, not even that.
The libretto is authored by Horacio Arturo Ferrer Ezcurra, a Uruguayan poet whose education took place between the two poles of literature and music. His poetic language developed in a very original fashion, and his style is characterized by a pronounced surrealism, partly due to his habit of creating fanciful neologisms.
The encounter between Ferrer’s unique poetical style and the world of (sung) tango could only be a fruitful one. Indeed, his verses were able to infuse new life into a language, that of tango, which was deemed by many to be already exhausted. His creation of lyrics for what would become La ultima Grela, by Anibal Troilo, became the foundational moment of his career as a poet for tango songs. When Piazzolla, in turn, encountered Ferrer’s poetry, it was love at first sight; the musician sought the poet’s collaboration, and, in 1967, their joint work began.
And their first cooperation was a masterpiece, i.e. precisely María de Buenos Aires. The extent of Ferrer’s involvement in its creation is indirectly demonstrated by the fact that he interpreted the character of El Duende, one of the most enigmatic and puzzling elements of the operita. On the other hand, the extent of Ferrer’s involvement in the world of tango is directly shown by the fact that his last grand enterprise was the creation of a National Academy of the Tango, with the purpose of promoting the study of tango and its dissemination worldwide. As Ferrer himself put it, “Tango flows within my veins since my birth; I would define my life as a kind of permanent festival. I believe that I’m a modest man, but I have a great virtue: there is harmony in my destiny. This harmony materialized itself in tango. One of the fundamental values of my life is freedom, and for me tango is an extraordinary exercise in freedom. It is the scent, taste, smell and art of sensuousness; its destiny is to express the confidential side of existence and bringing us back to the primordial instinct which is the freest component of ourselves”.
As said before, the first result of Ferrer and Piazzolla’s joint work was María de Buenos Aires, premiered at the Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires on May 8th, 1968, and which obtained such an immediate and long-lasting success that it became the most performed opera in Argentina. The team they built was ideally paired, in fact; Piazzolla’s music is characterized by the encounter of the traditional Argentinian tango, with jazz, the idiom of classical and that of contemporary music. The instruments employed by Piazzolla are likewise varied: those typical for the Western classical scene, like the violin and flute, are found side by side with an instrument typical for tango, such as the bandoneon, and others which had never been employed before for this music, such as drums and vibraphone. Similarly, Ferrer’s poetry is typical for his highly original style, with fantastic and surreal elements, an idiosyncratic use of temporality (expressed in particular by the different perception of time by María and by the other characters in the plot), and a mixture of sacred, secular, fantastic, mythological, magical, which seems to echo the multilingual musical idiom employed by Piazzolla.
There are many levels in Ferrer’s libretto: the story itself, the violated femininity of María and her wounds, the religious allusions, but also the hidden political subtext, decrying the institutions of his time, and also the way society behaves, with its corruption, both explicit and implicit, but equally poisonous for a healthy society. María is in fact not only herself, a destitute woman seduced by music and fallen in a life of vice, depravation, prostitution (while preserving a miraculous deep innocence), but also a symbol for the city itself, a kind of mythical phoenix which keeps dying and being reborn.
María, destined from birth to an unhappy life, falls in love with tango, which is much more than “just a dance” in the opera; it is a real character, perhaps more of a protagonist than the protagonist herself. Tango seduces and abandons her, leading her to prostitution and enthrallment. Her utter dependency from her “clients” is but the consequence of her dependency from tango, her true master. She undergoes a violent death, characterized by numerous abuses and Satanic perversions; but this death, which seems to put the seal to an equally unhappy life, is in fact a moment of rebirth. She becomes the shadow of her own, but, having lost her body, she somehow reconquers her virginity; she wanders within an infernal landscape, which is in turn the embodiment of her own city – and ultimately of herself.
Her presence is deeply felt by the inhabitants of the city, both human and non-human, as in the case of the Duende, who impregnates her so that she can give birth to a girl, who will be called María like her mother – and perhaps is the same María who gave her life.
Within this purposefully absurd and disquieting, anguished and troubled scenario, Piazzolla’s music contributes some unforgettable moments. The voice of Italian singer Milva, for whom the character of María was created, is indissolubly bound to the female protagonist; the unique mixture of warmth, passion, sensuousness, but also desperation and agony found in her timbre represent the embodiment of Piazzolla’s musical ideal. Around her, a carousel of forced happiness, darkness, dazzling colours and contradictions is given voice by Piazzolla’s music. The result is a unique work, as disconcerting as it is fascinating; it is the unique musical expression of an entire world, coming to the listener with the aggressive power of a revelation.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023
Jacopo Rivani: Born in Ravenna (Italy), and graduated with honours in Conducting at the G. Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro under the guidance of M° Manlio Benzi. He then pursued his studies with M° Piero Bellugi and had the privilege to be M° Alberto Zedda's assistant in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" on the occasion of its bicentenary. In spite of his young age, Jacopo Rivani made his debut in many important operas, among them: Traviata, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Don Pasquale, Elisir d’Amore, Cavalleria Rusticana, Carmina Burana, Madama Butterfly, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, Cenerentola. He also conducted some major symphonic masterpieces: Beethoven's 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 symphonies, Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony, Mahler's 4th symphony and Mozart's Requiem. Jacopo Rivani conducted 2 world premiéres: “Milo, Maja e il giro del mondo” by M. Franceschini (2015) and “Ettore Majorana - cronaca di infinite scomparse” by R. Vetrano (2017), both receiving great critical success. M° Rivani took part in important Music Festivals such as “Ravenna Festival”, “Festival Como città della musica”, "Emilia Romagna Festival" and he performed in “I Concerti del Sabato”, “Concerto di Santa Cecilia” (Auditorium “Pedrotti", Pesaro) and the “European Opera Days”. He performed in some of the most important Italian theatres such as Arcimboldi (Milan), Sociale (Como), A.Manzoni (Bologna), Pavarotti (Modena), Alighieri (Ravenna), Teatro Olimpico (Rome), Politeama (Naples), A.Bonci (Cesena), Rossini (Pesaro).
He conducted many Italian orchestras: Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Sassari, Haydn Orchester (Trento-Bolzano), Orchestra Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini (Parma), Orchestra Regionale dell'Emilia Romagna, I Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano, Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Rendano (Cosenza), FORM – Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana, SineForma ensemble, Italian Chamber Opera Ensemble, Orchestra Sinfonica della Repubblica di San Marino, Teramo Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra 1813 (Como), Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana. He is also the musical and artistic director of Ensemble Tempo Primo and Orchestra Arcangelo Corelli (Ravenna).
DANIEL BONILLA TORRES was born in Puerto Rico, in Ponce. After studying theology and political science, he graduated from the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in bassoon, choir and orchestra conducting. He completed his education at the Manhattan School of Music in New York where he followed classes of theater and opera production.
After debuting as an opera singer in 1971 in New Jersey, he was engaged to perform in New York, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico (Festival Casals). Since 1976 he has performed in Europe: as a member of the Zurich Opera and at the Stuttgarter Staatstheater he is regularly invited to perform at other theaters in the Federal Republic of Germany. He sings in Europe, Russia, Japan and Finland. Artistically eclectic, he is active, as a freelancer, not only as an opera singer and in concerts, but also participates as an actor in film productions. His performance as “El Duende” in Astor Piazzolla's opera “Maria de Buenos Aires” took him from Kiel (where he premiered this “Tango-Operita” in 1999 as a complete opera) to Italy, Japan , Greece, Russia, Estonia, Finland and Switzerland. In January 2016 he interreted “El Duende” in the version of “Maria de Buenos Aires“ produced by the Bonn Opera House, which would be revived in the 2016-17 season. In July 2016 he was invited for the third time at the International Festival of Musica da Kamera in Kuhmo (Finland), where he performed the “Operita” by Astor Piazzolla. Since then he has mainly dealt with this opera, directing it as well as being one of the interpreters: on the billboard of the the Halle Opera House in the 2017/18 season he obtained a great success, also personally, for his directing and interpreting, so much so that the opera was represented in the repertoire of the 2018/19 season. In 2018 he performed successfully in the same work, and with the same role of the “Duende”, also at the “Düsseldorf Osterfestival”, at the “Holland‘s Internazionale Stiftfestival”, Limoges Opera House and Venice Biennale, in 2019 at the Opera House in Lübeck, in 2021 at the International Stiftfestival in Holland, Festival Clásico de Bragança and Festival de Música Capuchos in Portugal as well as at the Ravenna Festival 2021.
DAVIDE VENDRAMIN, accordionist and bandoneonist, performs as a soloist with the Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Rai National Symphony Orchestra in Turin, the Milan Symphony Orchestra, the Toscanini Philharmonic Orchestra in Parma, the Orchestra of Chambre de Toulouse and the Berner Symphonie Orchester. He has collaborated, among others, with the Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana in Lugano, the Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, and conductors such as: Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, Stanislav Kochanovsky, Michele Mariotti, Maxime Pascal, Donato Renzetti, Juraj Valcuha to name but a few. He teaches accordion and bandoneon at the Vicenza Conservatory.
JACOPO RIVANI, after graduating with honors in orchestra conducting at the Pesaro Conservatory, he has conducted all the main titles of the symphonic and lyrical repertoire, with over 150 opera performances and over 50 symphonic concerts. His commitment to chamber music and contemporary music is particularly important; he performs this repertoire with passion and with particular recognition from the public and critics.
He has conducted, in the main halls and in the main Italian theaters among others, the ensembles of the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and the Teatro Comunale in Sassari, the Haydn Orchester of Trento and Bolzano, the Arturo Toscanini Philharmonic Orchestra, the Regional Orchestra of the Emilia Romagna, the "I Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano" orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of the Rendano Theater in Cosenza, the FORM - Marchigiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tempo Primo Ensemble and the Arcangelo Corelli Orchestra, of which he has been Artistic and Musical director since 2010.
MARTINA BELLI graduated with honors from the National Conservatory of Santa Cecilia. She has performed in prestigious theaters such as the Teatro La Scala in Milan, the Teatro dell'Opera in Rome, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Palau des Artes Reina Sofia in Valencia, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, the Teatro Regio in Parma, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Wiener Konzerthaus, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, the Royal Opera House in London. She collaborated with conductors such as J. Valchua, R. Muti, R. Abbado, D. Oren, D. Rustioni, Sir Antonio Pappano. She interpreted the role of Maddalena in the opera-film Rigoletto directed by D. Michieletto and conducted by Maestro Daniele Gatti. Her next engagements will see her again at the Teatro dell'Opera in Rome, at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and at the Teatro Real in Madrid
Nicolò Grassi, Giada Jasmine Rizqallah
Gianmaria Tombari, Antonio La Rosa
RUBEN PELONI began his studies in singing with Rubén Coria, renowned master of opera singing from the city of Rosario (Argentina).
In his artistic career he was able to share his best moments with important musicians and famous Tango ensembles whose fame is widely acknowledged in Europe; among the most significant we may cite the one with the Academy Award Winner Luis Bacalov, and Argentine bandoneonist Marcelo Nisinman.
He has also performed Tango concerts with classical ensembles such as the symphony orchestras of Pesaro (IT), Bari (IT), Foggia (IT), Pays de Savoie (FR), Limoges (FR), Budapest (HU), Halle (DE).
He was an interpreter of the Operita "María de Buenos Aires" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer in important musical events and theaters throughout Europe, including: Greek Theater of Taormina (IT), Petruzzelli Theater of Bari (IT), Teatro Verdi of Pisa (IT), Teatro Comunale di Ferrara, Halle Opera (DE), Limoges Opera (FR), "Dos Capuchos" Festival and "Bragança ClassicFest" (PT), Stift Festival (Netherlands ), as well as at the Venice Biennale Musica and the Ravenna Festival in 2021.
Astor Piazzolla: (b Mar del Plata, 11 March 1921; d Buenos Aires, 5 July 1992). Argentine composer, bandleader and bandoneón player. A child prodigy on the bandoneón, Piazzolla and his family emigrated to New York in 1924; in his teens he became acquainted with Gardel, for whom he worked as a tour guide, translator and occasional performer. Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 where he gave concerts and made tango arrangements for Aníbal Troilo, a leading bandleader; he also studied classical music with Ginastera. In 1944 Piazzolla left Troilo’s band to form the Orquesta del 46 as a vehicle for his own compositions. A symphony composed in 1954 for the Buenos Aires PO won him a scholarship to study in Paris with Boulanger, who encouraged him in the composition of tangos; the following year he resettled in Argentina and formed the Octeto Buenos Aires and, later, the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, which performed at his own club, Jamaica. Piazzolla left Argentina in 1974, settling in Paris, where he composed a concerto for bandoneón and a cello sonata for Rostropovich, among other works.
Piazzolla’s distinctive brand of tango, later called ‘nuevo tango’, initially met with resistance. Including fugue, extreme chromaticism, dissonance, elements of jazz and, at times, expanded instrumentation, it was condemned by the old-guard, including not only most tango composers and bandleaders but also Borges, whose short story El hombre de la Esquina Rosada was the basis for Piazzolla’s El tango (1969); like tango itself, Piazzolla’s work first found general approval outside Argentina, principally in France and the USA. By the 1980s, however, Piazzolla’s music was widely accepted even in his native country, where he was now seen as the saviour of tango, which during the 1950s and 60s had declined in popularity and appeal. In the late 1980s Piazzolla’s works began to be taken up by classical performers, in particular the Kronos Quartet, who commissioned Five Tango Sensations (1989). In all he composed about 750 works, including film scores for Tangos: the Exile of Gardel (1985) and Sur (1987). Shortly before his death, he was commissioned to write an opera on the life of Gardel.