Founded in 1979, the Long Beach Opera may be the oldest professional opera company in the Los Angeles/Orange County orbit. but it continues to break new ground.
It has performed more than 90 operas, ranging from the earliest works of the 17th century to contemporary operas, and has done site-specific stagings in parking structures, a trendy nightclub, the hull of an ocean liner, an Olympic swimming pool, and a furniture warehouse, as well as appearing in traditional theaters, in its continuing effort to give its audiences rich and challenging fare and showcase opera in a thoroughly new light, while hewing to its traditional standards.
Through its diverse productions, special concerts, and film screenings at multiple locations in this area, an active education program, and student matinees, LBO continues to make opera accessible to an ever-expanding audience.
In that spirit, it began its new season Saturday night with the premiere of a new production of Piazzolla’s MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES.
Its second and last performance is scheduled for Saturday night, February 4, at the Warner Grand Theatre, marking LBO’s first performance in San Pedro.
A now legendary opera that combines the passion of Astor Piazzolla‟s revolutionary “nuevo tango” and Horacio Ferrer’s mesmerizing libretto, this latest iteration of MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES is set during Argentina‟s “Dirty War” (1976-1983) when the country was governed by military juntas, upwards of 30,000 people “disappeared,” and countless others were tortured, abused and imprisoned.
“These themes are implicit in Piazzolla‟s radical music and Ferrer‟s ingenious poetry,” Andreas Mitisek, LBO’s Artistic and General Director, said. “The new production delves into the soul of this work and gives it a contemporary meaning beyond clichés and stereotypes. Our María represents the passion of the Argentine women who were as seductive as the tango while resilient and strong enough to overcome dictatorship in a country where the machismo culture predominates.
“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.
“Piazzolla’s María is the ultimate metaphor for the heart and soul of Argentina and, for me, also a metaphor for love, hope, fear and resilience, In our production, María falls victim to the ‘Dirty War,’ but she is reborn in the protests of the thousands of ‘Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ whose children ‘disappeared.’ It is a paradox that those who were treated the harshest by the dictators remained the strongest. It was these mothers and others like them whose fight for justice eventually brought the military to its knees.”
Piazzolla and Ferrer subtitled their first collaboration, MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES, a “tango operita.” However, its music was unlike any conventional tango. Piazzolla took the tango off the dance floor by creating a new style, “nuevo tango,” which incorporates counterpoint, dissonance, extended harmonies, and elements of jazz and classical music.
The opera premiered at the Sala Planeta in Buenos Aires in May,1968 with Piazzolla’s ten-piece orchestra, Amelita Baltar as María, and Ferrer as El Duende. The opera had its U.S. premiere at Houston Grand Opera in 1991. LBO staged the West Coast premiere in 2004, but the new production differs markedly from its 2004 version.
Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina and in 1925 moved with his family to New York. He grew up listening to everything from Bach to jazz. When he was eight years old, his father gave him a bandonéon, a German concertina that had became very popular in Argentina and Uruguay. By the time he was 13, Astor was sufficiently proficient on the instrument to impress the famous Argentine singer Carlos Gardel, who asked him to take a small part in one of his movies and tour with his band, but Piazzolla‟s parents refused to allow the young Astor to go on the road. Gardel and his entourage were subsequently killed in a plane crash while on the tour.
In 1936, the family moved back to Argentina. As a young man, Piazzolla played in local cabarets, conducted several dance bands, and wrote a number of tangos. Moving on, he studied classical music, in the style of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Ravel, and in 1953 the French government gave him a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.
Rejecting his scores from the previous ten years, she said, “I can‟t find Piazzolla in this!” He told her about playing the bandonéon in cabarets and performed some of his tangos.
She said, “You idiot, that’s Piazzolla!”
Piazzolla said, “I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to Hell in two seconds,” and returned to Argentina to compose his own unique music, blending classical influences with the tango style.
He played in a number of ensembles, collaborated with other artists and wrote several film scores. Although a leading figure in Argentina, his new musical forms were scorned by the orthodox “tangueros” or tango masters. There was an Argentine saying “in Argentina everything may change – except the tango.” But, in spite of the continuing resistance, he continued composing original concert pieces, and though he spent time in both Italy and New York, he always went back to Argentina.
In 1968, he collaborated on his only opera with poet Ferrer. MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES, a mystical, surreal journey through the streets of Buenos Aires with María a metaphor for the Argentine people.
In the 1980s, Piazzolla’s compositions increased in popularity across Europe and the United States, buoyed by his recordings and collaborations with Gary Burton, Lalo Schiffrin, Mtislav Rostropovitch, and the Kronos Quartet. He died in 1992.
Today, his pieces are regularly performed by major orchestras around the world. The cellist Yo Yo Ma recorded “Piazzolla: Soul of the Tango” and, recently, violinist Gidon Kremer has championed Piazzolla’s work and recorded MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES, the Grammy-nominated HOMMAGE A PIAZZOLLA and EL TANGO, among others.
Born in Montevideo, Argentina, Horacio Ferrer began writing songs, plays, poems and tangos at an early age, often accompanying himself on the guitar. An uncle who lived in Buenos Aires introduced him to the city’s street life and cabarets. While studying architecture in Uruguay in the 1950s, he started a weekly radio program called “Seleccion de Tangos” where he defended the new, avant-garde tango styles. In 1955, he met Piazzolla and was inspired by him to study the bandonéon. In 1959, his first book, “El Tango, Su historia y evolucion,” was published and he began to appear on radio and television shows, and co-wrote “La ultima grela,” which brought him recognition as a lyricist.
On hearing the 1967 recording of Ferrer’s poems, “Romancero canyengue,” Piazzolla invited him to collaborate on the operita MARIA DE BUENOS AIRES. Their work on a series of “baladas” in 1969 brought Piazzolla his first major success in Argentina. The two men continued to collaborate until 1973.
Ferrer’s three- volume edition of EL LIBRO DEL TANGO, ARTE POPULAR DE BUENOS AIRES is considered the definitive work On Argentine tango music and dance.
America’s fingerprints were all over Argentina’s “dirty war,” which began during the Presidency of Juan Perón’s third wife, Isabel Martínez de Perón (1974-1976), and was marked by ever-escalating violence. On March 24, 1976, a military junta ousted her and took control of the country. The seven-year period of their rule was named the “Dirty War” by its leaders.
After the coup, the junta staged the “National Reorganization Process,” in which thousands of so-called dissidents and subversives were perceived as enemies, and tortured, imprisoned and killed. Young mothers were arrested and killed and their babies handed over to followers of the regime.
The junta’s loss of the Falkland War to the British was the beginning of its end. It was succeeded by a civilian government in December, 1983.
On LBO’s 2012 season’s schedule are Poulenc’s THE BREAST OF TIRESIAS, Martinu’s TEARS OF A KNIFE, Golijov’s AINADAMAR, and Nyman‟s THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT.
In September 2012, the first production of Outer Limits, a new chamber opera series, opens with Gavin Bryars’ PAPER NAUTILUS at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
For tickets or, more information, call 562 432 5934, or email: