María de Buenos Aires
Let me get this out of the way: Mar'a de Buenos Aires is not an opera. Nor is it a ballet. Nor is it an operetta or a musical, and it is certainly not a zarzuela. Piazzolla himself invented a term for it: he called it a tango operita. But even that doesn't really give the full picture. As you are about to hear, Mar'a de Buenos Aires is a unique amalgam of instrumental and vocal tangos, spoken word, and (in our production) dance. It challenges the authority of received artistic wisdom; one can almost imagine sitting in a smoky Buenos Aires tango lounge at 3:00 a.m. in the late 1960's, listening to the poet Horacio Ferrer improvise the text for whomever was sober and awake enough to listen, including the composer.
The music of Mar'a de Buenos Aires, louche and slightly dangerous, seduced me right away. Its rather simple surface belies layers of musical complexity that push at the boundaries of the traditional Argentine form. (A tango fugue, anyone?) But for all its musical sophistication, Mar'a de Buenos Aires is still constructed as a succession of dances, so it was clear to me that our director must be a choreographer, one whose staging would reflect the music by likewise expanding the boundaries of traditional movement vocabulary into the realm of the abstract. (Ferrer's text is fiercely abstract as well.) David Parsons, with his huge expressive range and his mastery of forms both large and small, seemed the ideal man for the job. Along with the celebrated tango choreographer Pablo Pugliese, he created a staging that evokes the kaleidoscopic colors of the music and the text, giving it form without destroying its ambiguity.
Born in Argentina in 1921, Astor Piazzolla quickly became the leading bandoneon virtuoso of his generation, and is generally credited as the creator of the modern tango. He moved to Paris in 1954 to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, who urged him to focus his energies on pushing the tango in new directions. Though it took many years to win over conservative tangueros, he eventually succeeded; his compositions are now as fully accepted in the tango lounge as they are in the concert hall, where artists like Emanuel Ax, Daniel Barenboim, Gidon Kremer, and Yo-Yo Ma have performed and recorded them. Piazzolla died in 1992.
Arguably Piazzolla's masterpiece, Mar'a de Buenos Aires had its premiere in 1968. It is scored for two singers, one actor, speaking chorus, and eleven instrumentalists, with all forces judiciously amplified. The first production was unstaged, presented in oratorio style, with Ferrer in the speaking role (which was apt, since Duende is clearly a stand-in for the poet himself). Nine years later, Piazzolla significantly revised Mar'a, greatly enlarging the cast and orchestration for fully staged operatic performances throughout France. Though the music was largely unchanged, Piazzolla's intimate gesture was pumped up almost beyond recognition and was not a success. The result sounds, to my ears at least, uncomfortably glitzy and hollow. Unsurprisingly, it is the original 1968 version that is performed exclusively today, both in concert and in opera houses.
Stripped of its excess glamour, the piece is once again louche and dangerous. Whatever your natural inclinations, I hope that you enjoy entering the world that is Mar'a de Buenos Aires. Afterward, of course, you can return to your normal existence, should you so desire. - Neal Goren
When I first heard Astor Piazzolla's incredible music combined with the exquisite poetry of Horacio Ferrer, I felt that at the time they wrote Mar'a de Buenos Aires they were taking a huge risk in fusing such extreme elements.
Responding to their boldness, I wanted to try something similarly risky, by fusing the intimacy of tango and the abstraction of contemporary dance to create another language to propel the story. This meant doubling each of the roles specified in the score with a Parsons dancer, to intensify and give physical life to characters who were otherwise only verbal.
One of the most important aspects of directing is to get the right creative team. Pablo Pugliese, an Argentinian tango dancer and choreographer, brings his vast expertise and knowledge of tango culture to the piece. I'm also thrilled to be working with my longtime friend (and a co-founder of Parsons Dance) Howell Binkley as lighting designer, as well as with projection designer Jerome Sirlin, set designer Carol Bailey, and Gotham's conductor and artistic director Neal Goren. Neal and the rest of the artists, musicians and performers were instrumental in bringing my vision of Mar'a to life.
And what a life it is: specific to the experience of the struggling class and yet, in the manner of all great art, universal. - David Parsons