Maria de Buenos Aires
by Astor Piazzolla / Horacio Ferrer
This opera of “stunning originality,” pulses to the passion and beat of Piazzolla's revolutionary nuevo tango and Horacio Ferrer's mesmerizing, imaginative Poetry. María embodies everything that is the Argentinian people. Totally consumed by passion yet fiercely maintaining her independence, María fights for survival and freedom, never surrendering. "I dream a dream that nobody ever dreamed. María noche, María pasión fatal! María del amor!" Piazzolla’s tango music for this story is irresistible, incisive, electrifying, provocative and moving.
LBO's new production captures the conflict of Argentine society at a crucial moment in its history. Piazolla's opera is set during Argentina's “Dirty War,” the period between 1976 and 1983 when the country was governed by military juntas which controlled the populace through state-sponsored terrorism.
“Our María represents the passion of the Argentinian women who were as seductive as the tango while resilient and strong enough to overcome dictatorship in a country where machismo ruled. Taking the tango to its most brutal extreme, the „Dirty War? was a dance of torture, covered in blood, and danced by the highest echelons of society and power. In María, the tango is a dance of life and death. Piazzolla embraced the tango in an extreme way. He took it to a deeper level. He intensified everything about it - the harmonies, the form, the noises, the jerks; he created a revolution within the tango.” -Andreas Mitisek
The only child of Vicente 'Nonino' Piazzolla and Asunta Mametti was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. In 1925, Astor and his family moved to New York's Little Italy where his neighborhood friends included future 'Raging Bull' Jake LaMotta and Roy Campanella well before he was a Brooklyn Dodger or Hall-of-Famer. He was undersized, his right leg was one much shorter than the left, but he was a scrapper (they called him "Lefty" because he packed a punch). He went out for competitive sports, took up tap dance and always played to win. At the age of 8, his father gave him a bandoneon - a letdown because he was expecting a pair of skates – and he became proficient enough to impress the celebrated Argentine singer Carlos Gardel with his playing. Gardel got him a bit part in his movie musical "El dia que me quieras" when Astor was 13 and invited him to play bandoneon on a publicity tour for the movie, but his parents declined. It was on that junket that Gardel and his entourage were killed when their plane crashed in Medellin, Colombia - news of which sent shock waves throughout South America. Piazzolla and his family returned to Argentina for good in 1936, and he embarked on a career playing the cabarets of Buenos Aires in various tango bands. Piazzolla began composing and arranging tangos but had more than a passing interest in classical style. He sought out Arthur Rubinstein, who was then living in Buenos Aires. The Polish pianist encouraged further academic study and introduced him to Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, who became his teacher. In his Memoir he wrote:
Piazzolla suppressed the tango in his "serious" compositions, preferring to imitate the likes of Stravinsky, Bartok and Ravel. A competition prize in 1953 led him to Paris and the studio of Nadia Boulanger.
When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: "It's very well written." And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: "Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what happens? I can't find Piazzolla in this." And she began to investigate my private life: what I did, what I did and did not play, if I was single, married, or living with someone, she was like an FBI agent! And I was very ashamed to tell her that I was a tango musician. Finally I said, "I play in a night club." I didn't want to say cabaret. And she answered, "Night club, mais oui, but that is a cabaret, isn't it?" "Yes," I answered, and thought, "I'll hit this woman in the head with a radio…." It wasn't easy to lie to her.
She kept asking: "You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?" And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I thought, "Then she will throw me from the fourth floor." Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: "You idiot, that's Piazzolla!" And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.
His art thus validated by the mother hen to fledgling composers, Piazzolla returned to Argentina in 1955 on a mission to put classical brains to tango's animal allure. He formed a succession of experimental ensembles - Octeto Buenos Aires. Conjunto Electronico and the famed New Tango Quintet - to play his brand of Tango Nuevo. He had important collaborations with poets Jorge Luis Borges (EI Tango) and Horacio Ferrer (Maria de Buenos Aires and Baladas). He scored numerous films. He enraged tango purists with his cerebral pretensions but did not attract a wide following in the classical world until the late '80s when artists like the Kronos Quartet and Gidon Kremer began championing his music. Nonetheless, he was a large figure in the rarefied world of tango - from his emergence in the 1930s cabaret scene of Buenos Aires until his death there ill 1992. (Byrwec Ellison)
Poet Horacio Ferrer was born in Montevideo in 1933 in an environment of learning and art. His Uruguayan father was a professor of history and geography and was a founder of the riverbank performers Troupe Ateniense. His Argentine mother was a singer from a family of poets and writers. His grandparents' home in Buenos Aires was filled with writers and musicians. His parents took him to see zarzuelas and operettas, and he often tagged along with them to the cafes at night. His uncle Arturo Ferrer played piano and sang him tango lyrics. Another uncle, Lorenzo Hamilton, taught him guitar and Creole milongas.
He thus took an abiding interest in the tango, endeavoring to put his imprint on its dance lyrics. His earliest efforts in the 1950s embodied the themes and style of his later, more emphatically surreal works. While a student in architecture, he started a weekly radio program devoted to the tango, especially to the avant-garde trends newly emerging. In 1954, he began organizing concerts under the aegis of his Club de la Guardia Nueva. Performing groups included the Anibal Troilo Orquesta and Astor Piazzolla's Octeto Buenos Aires; Ferrer met Piazzolla soon after the latter's return from Paris in 1955.
He illustrated and directed the magazine Tangueando during the 1950-60s and after quitting his architecture studies, worked for the Montividean morning paper EI Dia. In the meantime, he brought out his first book, The Tango: Its History and Evolution and began writing lyrics on commission from major collaborators, including Troilo and Piazzolla. This led to a series of projects with Piazzolla, the first of which was the 'operita' Maria de Buenos Aires, premiered at the Planet in Buenos Aires in 1968 with Piazzolla's ten-piece orchestra. The following year, they turned out a series of tangos called 'baladas' of which the Balada para un loco became Piazzolla's first big hit. They also produced an oratorio EI Pueblo Joven. A prolific lyricist, he wrote words for tangos by other musicians, including Julio De Caro, Pedro Laurenz, Armando Pontier and Osvaldo Pugliese. He sealed his credentials as a tango historian With EI Arte del Tango, Arte Popular de Buenos Aires in 1970, which he followed up in 1980 with a three-volume, 2000-page edition.
How Maria de buenos aires came to be written
by Horacio Ferrer
I first fell in love with the tango as a small child. I admired the orchestra of Anfbal Troilo and his young bandoneon player and arranger, Astor Piazzolla, who was to be idolized not only by me but by the whole of the world and to play a large part in my life.
It was not long before Astor became a leading conductor, although he was still only twenty-six. I was still at school. I applauded him in the cafes where he played - playing that was bold, refined and marked by great artistic sensitivity. This was in 1948. One evening, when the concert was over, I spoke to him and told him reverently how much I admired his music and how much it meant to me. The emotion of that fourteen-year-old youth, who already recited poems in schools, on street corners and in department stores, while accompanying himself on the guitar, made him smile.
I wrote to him while he was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Fate itself must have had a hand in his reply: he and his wife Dede would be stopping off in Montevideo on their way home to Buenos Aires. I was waiting for him at the harbor and took him to the Club de la Guardia Nueva, a low dive frequented by us young aficionados of the avant-garde tango. There he was received with tumultuous applause by three hundred students.
In spite at our love of the city, neither of us two authors at Maria de Buenos Aires was born in Buenos Aires. Following his visit to my home City of Montevideo, Astor invited me to his own birthplace in Mar del Plata. It was here that I really got to know him. Astor was a gifted musician. Music welled forth from him whenever he sat down at the piano, eager to spend the whole day composing. His left hand flew over the music manuscript paper as he struck a number at chords with enviable assurance. "Most of what I compose", he commented, "I am not composing but am already actually playing it,"
The affinity and affection that bound us together meant that I wrote the introductions for his concerts or jotted down mv ideas in the form of liner notes and programmer notes. And when my first volume of poems, Romancero Canvengue, appeared in 1967, his reaction was: "You are doing in your poetry is what I am doing in my music. From now on we shall compose together. Think up a subject for the musical and lyric stage."
Two months later I handed him the finished libretto of Maria de Buenos Aires and, inspired by Astor’s own work, took my courage in both hands and made suggestions for each scene, suggestions that he welcomed in almost every case. In order to reflect the various periods and levels of existence through which Maria passes, I suggested that he should use different types of tango (traditional, romance, song, modern), milonga and waltz, together with a number of rural tunes from the pampas. "I much appreciate all these suggestions of yours, Horacio," Astor said to me. "Many people think I write only purely instrumental music - now they'll see that that's not the case." From start to finish, Maria de Buenos Aires contains powerful, brilliant and affecting music of altogether exceptional artistry, basic material as Maria. Like everything else that we did during the next twenty years, it was composed with exactly the same delight.
He spent the summer of 1968 in Eastern Uruguay composing more than half the music with my bandoneon, which he liked so much that I had the pleasure of giving it to him. The rest he wrote at his home in Buenos Aires, where I visited him in the early autumn - astonished, happy and feeling closer than ever to this generous, enthusiastic, shy, sensual, ironic and sentimental man, a man with the aura of an angel and a devil and the heart of a lion.
We gave the first performance at the Sala Planeta on May 8, 1968, with an eleven-man band, in a version compiled and orchestrated by Astor, and with Amelita Baltar as Maria, Hector de Rosas in the male roles (Gorrion, Ladron and Analista) and with myself as EI Duende. The brief spoken choruses were taken by ourselves and a few of our friends.
Between May and September we gave 120 performances and recorded our little opera on two LPs that are still to be round all over the world today. The following year, 1969, we enjoyed our greatest success with Balda para un loco, a tango drawn from the same basic material as Maria. Like everything else that we did during the next twenty years, it was composed with exactly the same delight.
Piazzolla's Musical style
Piazzolla's nuevo tango was distinct from the traditional tango in its incorporation of elements of jazz, its use of extended harmonies and dissonance, its use of counterpoint, and its ventures into extended compositional forms. As Argentine psychoanalyst Carlos Kuri has pointed out, Piazzolla's fusion of tango with this wide range of other recognizable Western musical elements was so successful that it produced a new individual style transcending these influences. It is precisely this success, and individuality, that makes it hard to pin down where particular influences reside in his compositions, but some aspects are clear. The use of the passacaglia technique of a circulating bass line and harmonic sequence, invented and much used in 17th and 18th century baroque music but also central to the idea of jazz "changes", predominates in most of Piazzolla's mature compositions. Another clear reference to the baroque is the often complex and virtuosic counterpoint that sometimes follows strict fugal behavior but more often simply allows each performer in the group to assert his voice. A further technique that emphasises this sense of democracy and freedom among the musicians is improvisation that is borrowed from jazz in concept, but in practice involves a different vocabulary of scales and rhythms that stay within the parameters of the established tango sound-world. Pablo Ziegler has been particularly responsible for developing this aspect of the style both within Piazzolla's groups and since the composer's death.
With the composition of Adiós Nonino in 1959, Piazzolla established a standard structural pattern for his compositions, involving a formal pattern of fast-slow-fast-slow-coda, with the fast sections emphasizing gritty tango rhythms and harsh, angular melodic figures, and the slower sections usually making use of the string instrument in the group and/or Piazzolla's own bandoneón as lyrical soloists. The piano tends to be used throughout as a percussive rhythmic backbone, while the electric guitar either joins in this role or spins filigree improvisations; the double bass parts are usually of little interest, but provide an indispensable rugged thickness to the sound of the ensemble. The quintet of bandoneon, violin, piano, electric guitar and double bass was Piazzolla's preferred setup on two extended occasions during his career, and most critics consider it to be the most successful instrumentation for his works. This is due partly to its great efficiency in terms of sound - it covers or imitates most sections of a symphony orchestra, including the percussion which is improvised by all players on the bodies of their instruments - and the strong expressive identity it permits each individual musician. With a style that is both rugged and intricate, such a setup augments the compositions' inherent characteristics.
Despite the prevalence of the quintet formation and the ABABC compositional structure, Piazzolla consistently experimented with other musical forms and instrumental combinations. In 1965, an album was released containing collaborations between Piazzolla and Jorge Luis Borges where Borges's poetry was narrated over very avant-garde music by Piazzolla including the use of dodecaphonic (twelve-tone) rows, free non-melodic improvisation on all instruments, and modal harmonies and scales.
THE DIRTY WAR
The term "Dirty War" (Spanish: Guerra Sucia) originates in the military junta itself, which claimed that a war, albeit with "different" methods (including the large-scale application of torture and rape), was necessary to maintain social order and eradicate political subversives. This explanation has been questioned in court and by human rights NGOs, as it suggests that a "civil war" was going on, thereby implying justification for the killings. Thus, during the 1985 Trial of the Juntas, public prosecutor Julio Strassera suggested that the term "Dirty War" was a "euphemism to try to conceal gang activities" as though they were legitimate military activities.
The Dirty War was a period of state-sponsored violence in Argentina from 1976 until 1983. Victims of the violence included several thousand left-wing activists and militants, including trade unionists, students, journalists, Marxists, Peronist guerrillas and alleged sympathizers. Some 10,000 of the disappeared were guerrillas of the Montoneros (MPM), and the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP). Estimates for the number of people who were killed or "disappeared" range from 9,000 to 30,000; the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons estimates that around 13,000 disappeared. Some 11,000 Argentines have applied for and received up to US $200,000 as monetary compensation from the state for the loss of loved ones during the military dictatorship. The commander of the Montoneros, Mario Firmenich, in a radio interview in late 2000 from Spain later stated that "In a country that experienced a civil war, everybody has blood in their hands."
The exact chronology of the repression is still debated, however, as trade unionists were targeted for assassination as early as 1973, and individual cases of state-sponsored violence against Peronism and the left can be traced back at least to the Bombing of Plaza de Mayo in 1955. The Trelew massacre of 1972, the actions of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance since 1973 and Isabel Martínez de Perón's "annihilation decrees" against left-wing guerrillas during Operativo Independencia in 1975, have all been suggested as dates for the beginning of the Dirty War. Prof. Carlos Marcelo Shäferstein in his work Cien años de subversión en Argentina, says the Dirty War has its real roots in the violence witnessed in Buenos Aires during the Tragic Week of 1919 and the fighting that took place in Patagonia in 1921 and 1922, between anarchist and elements of the Argentine government forces popularly known today as the Patagonia rebelde.
The Bandoneon is an offshoot of a family of german button and bellows instruments called KONCERTINAS, invented around 1845. Koncertinas (distinct from those played in the british isles) were small square instruments which had 14 buttons on each side. Later this number increased to more than 70. The first bandoneon was in fact a konzertina made around the year1856 and to which the commercial name of "bandoneon" was given in memory of Einrich Band, who had a music shop in Krefeld (north Germany).
The bandoneon was developed throughout Germany under various sizes and systems. One of these many different models,the "Reinlander"(from the Rein district) was exported to Argentina at the very end of last century, whereas the "Chemnitzer"(from the city of Chemnitz) was brought to USA by Polish and Czech migrants. Germany used to sell a lot of musical instruments to both north and south America, i.e. the harmonicas used in blues, the melodeons used in Cajun music and all kinds of accordions in the brazilan Nordeste, Colombia and so on.
Bandoneon was very quickly adopted in Buenos Aires and became the symbol of Tango. It was never built there. Most bandoneons were made by the german maker ALFRED ARNOLD from 1911 untill few years after the war.
The argentinian bandoneon is a two voice instrument (each note being doubled at the superior octave) with 71 buttons. Each button plays a different note depending on whether the bellows is opened or closed (unproperly called diatonic). Around 1925, Charles Peguri, an Italian accordion player and repairer settled in Paris designed a new keyboard where each button produced the same note regardless of whether the bellows was open or closed (called "chromatic") which has been widely used in France for playing Tango, the bandoneon must be tuned without vibrato (the two voices being precisely an octave apart).
Synopsis (LBO VERSION)
SCENE 1: On a night in Buenos Aires, Older Payador sits alone, finally allowing himself to recall the painful memories of the Dirty War in Argentina, some thirty years before, when he lost his love, Maria. All those who were lost still haunt him.
SCENE 2: Maria emerges from Older Payador's misty memories to the theme of the tango, the spirit of her life.
SCENE 3: Older Payador begins to tell Maria's story: Both were subversives during the Dirty War, both were captured, imprisoned, tortured. Maria did not survive. Older and Younger Payador wrestle with guiltover failing to save her. Payador's memories unfold.
SCENE 4: Flashback: The young people of Buenos Aires gather in a bar to celebrate the beauty and romance of the tango. During a version of "7 minutes in heaven," Payador and Maria meet and fall in love.
SCENE 5: Maria introduces herself to Payador: "I am Maria ... Maria tango, slum Maria, Maria night, Maria fatal passion, Maria love of Buenos Aires, that's me."
SCENE 6: Several months later, on the eve of the revolution, we find Maria and Payador as a marrie couple. One early morning, Payador heads out to fight for the revolution.
SCENE 7: Payador gets arrested for his underground activities, as Maria leaves the suburbs and arrives in the centre of Buenos Aires.
SCENE 8: After Payador 's arrest, Maria searches for her lost love by embracing a life of obscurity and seduction, mingling with the military in hopes of finding someone who can tell her where her Payador is.
SCENE 9: Remembering the vivid scene, Older Payador accuses Marco of raping Maria, forcing her into a place from which she could never return.
SCENE 10: Younger Payador 's voice recalls the memory offstage, while Older Payador is haunted by sorrow.
SCENE 11: Trapped in prison cells, Maria, Payador, and their fellow Argentinians are tortured and abused mercilessly by their guards.
SCENE 12: Detached from reality, Maria escapes the inescapable by recalling the trees and the chimneys of Buenos Aires. Payador, blindfolded in the cell next to hers, hears her song and longs to be with his lost love.
SCENE 13: Withdrawn and confused, Maria teeters on the edge of life. In the adjacent cell, Payador urges her to remember the woman she once was, not the shadow she has become. Unable to deal with the distress any longer, Maria collapses.
SCENE 14: As with any victim of physical abuse and torture, each moment of brutality represents another death. Here we find that Maria has died and Older Payador slowly comes to the end of his story.
María de Buenos Aires
I am María from Buenos Aires
from Buenos Aires María, don't you see who I am?
María tango, María from the suburb
María night, María fatal passion
María of love, from Buenos Aires I am!
I am María from Buenos Aires
If in this neighborhood people ask who I am
soon they'll know
the females that will envy me
and every macho at my feet,
like a mouse in my trap, will fall
I am María from Buenos Aires
I'm a witch (b*tch) singing and loving too
If the bandoneon provokes me... tiará, tatá!
I bite hard its mouth... tiará, tatá!
with ten flower spasms that I have in my being
I always tell myself "let's go María"
when a mystery climbs in my voice
and I sing a tango that nobody ever sang
and I dream a dream that nobody ever dreamed
because tomorrow is today with yesterday later, che!
I am María from Buenos Aires
from Buenos Aires, María I am, my city
María tango, María from the suburb
María night, María fatal passion
María of love, from Buenos Aires I am!