I've finally had some time to sit down and write a little bit about this incredible project I'm currently involved in and which opens tonight at the Waterloo Vaults Theatre in London. As you've been reading and seeing in the pictures, it's an opera by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla and it's called Maria de Buenos Aires.
Piazzolla is renowned for having brought Jazz and Classical music influences to the tradition agerntinian Tango creating the so called Tango Nuevo, and up until being involved in this project, I had no idea he also composed an opera.
The invitation to take on this project came while I was busy rehearsing for Le Nozze di Figaro, so although we had 3 weeks to put this show together, I didn't have the time I usually do to prepare the role. Technology was a very powerful ally (more on musicians, music and technology in my next blog post) and I was able to start absorbing the role during my commutes to Hastings and also because it's in Spanish (which I can just about speak), I managed to have it memorised fairly quickly.
What to say about this music, though? We've all watched people dance tango and know that it's an incredibly sensual and charged dancing style, so how well does that translate into a 90 minutes opera.Well, I can wholeheartedly say that at least for me, this is some of the most incredibly beautiful and touching music I've ever sung. The opera has a very surreal plot which revolves around Maria, a prostitute who's murdered because of jealousy and returns as a shadow to haunt the streets of Buenos Aires (more on it here), but our production is placing the focus on how three of Maria's lovers deal with rejection and, ultimately, her death. For me, that's the core of this opera: how we deal with the death of someone we love and Horacio Ferrer's libretto with its rich imagery and metaphors, captures that in a way that's enhanced by Piazzolla's music. The result is a 90 minutes heart-on-sleeve score with curses, declarations of love and lots of Tango.My character, the Cantor, represents several of Maria's lovers through her life. People who loved her deeply and who either lost her to another man or to death, despite trying to save her. Below you'll find a soundbite from our first orchestra rehearsal when my character curses Maria to return to the streets as a shadow.
I found this some of the most moving and addicting music I ever sung in my life. Call me cheesy, but it's written in such an honest and unpretentious way that it immediately spoke to me in a way that very few roles have so far. I found myself being totally carried away with it and simply not wanting to wait until the next rehearsal/performance. It has also been amazing to work with incredible people, some of whom I already knew, and it's been absolutely inspiring to work with a chorus of actors. Piazzolla didn't score the text for the chorus, so in the tradition of Greek theatre, the chorus uses declamation for its lines, commenting on the actions of the singing characters (Maria and myself).However, the most touching aspect about this opera is that Piazzolla actually composed it in honour of a singer he was deeply in love with and who was married to another man - Egle Martin. The whole affair was quite tumultuous, involving the two men fighting over Egle, but Piazzolla eventually yielded, famously saying "She is music, she can't belong to anybody, no, she is music, she is music, and that's me."The character of Maria is also very reminiscent of Violetta in La Traviata, in the sense that she's a completely free woman who doesn't obey society's expectations of what her role should be, and has an unreadable grip over men. In the famous Yo Soy Maria she describes herself as Maria of Tango, Maria of Fatal Passion at whose feet all men fall like mice on a trap.
Our production tries to bring this true story to life by recreating the character of Piazzolla in the orchestra's bandeonero, and by portraying the Duende (an actor role) as his love rival. The final result is a show which is incredibly moving, visceral and honest, and I urge those of you who can, to come and see it. It's not an opera which one can see performed live very often and we're really fortunate to be performing it with the orchestra formation that Piazzolla originally scored the work for. It really is a must see! You can find all the info about the show here!
As for me, tonight is opening night and I'm spending the rest of the day listening to tango to get in the mood.