Friday, May 10, 2013

Piazzolla and "Maria de Buenos Aires" at the 2013 Blumental Festival

The 2013 Felicja Blumental International Music Festival took place from April 29th to May 4th at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In its 15th year, the festival is directed by singer Annette Celine (Felicja Blumental’s daughter) with Yehuda Shryer as guitar week editor and Avigail Arnheim executive director. The event closing the festival on May 4th was “Maria de Buenos Aires” – excerpts from opera and other works of Ástor Piazzolla. Directed and choreographed by Chiche Núñez, Schachar Ziv directed and arranged the music. Dr. Rachel Uziel wrote and edited texts that were read by actor Uri Gottlieb. Instrumentalists were Argentinean guitarist Omar Cyrulnik and the Pitango Quartet (Hadar Cohen-violin, Amijai Shalev-bandoneón, Shachar Ziv-piano and Rinat Avisar-double bass.) The Argentinean singer and actress Ampero Gonzalez played the role of Maria.

The event was a tribute to Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) and his tango-ballet-operita (operetta) “Maria de Buenos Aires” to an evocative libretto by Horacio Ferrer; the plot revolves around the character of Maria - a mythical girl from the slums who falls into the clutches of the city’s underworld. Seduced and corrupted, her demise is watched over by thieves and brothel keepers. The character of Maria herself features in the first half of the performance, with the Shadow of Maria appearing in the second half as it is reborn to wander the streets of Buenos Aires. “Maria de Buenos Aires” is considered to be Piazzolla’s magnam opus,

Piazzolla wrote the part of Maria for a folk singer. Ampero Gonzalez’ low-placed, smoky voice, her earthy intensity and passion are, in which case, well suited to the role of Maria. Fervent and passionate, the petite singer radiates strength, her stage presence and movements and her message (even to non-Spanish speakers) keeping all audience eyes and ears on her.

Working on the operita together with Ferrer at his holiday home in Uruguay, Piazzolla composed the music on the bandoneón (a type of concertina popular in Argentina and Uruguay, essential in most tango ensembles.) Amijai Shalev’s playing of it at the Blumental Festival performance took on more significance than that of an accompanying instrument: it infused the work with emotional color, nostalgia, mourning and intimacy. The Pitango Quartet, founded in 2003, comprises four classically-trained virtuoso musicians. Having made a deep enquiry into the style of Argentinean music, they have performed in Israel, Spain and Argentina. Each has much to contribute to this music, offering the listener the opportunity to hear the distinctive style of each player. Their playing, displaying involvement in the singing, dancing and narration, was gregarious, intense, polished and invigorating. Pianist Shachar Ziv’s solo jazzy numbers struck a personal note. Adding much life, beauty and authenticity to the performance was the distinguished Buenos Aires-born guitarist Omar Cyrulnik.

Setting  scene and mood, and filling in details for those of us who were not Spanish speakers, actor Uri Gottlieb’s eloquence in the readings added much to the quality of the event.

The poet Horacio Ferrer wrote ‘Before being an artistic expression…tango was a certain attitude, a way of life.’ Piazzolla breathed new life into the tango form with the “nueve” tango. Dressed “to kill”, Núñez and his five Israeli dancers performed the provocative, intoxicating tango in all its suave, seductive beauty with the utmost of artistry throughout the performance. The event was convincing and sophisticated, constituting fine collaboration between Argentinean- and Israeli artists.

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