"Ahora que es la hora y que un rumor de yerba mora trasnocha en tu silencio, por un poro de este asfalto yo habré de conjurar tu voz..."
(El Duende, "Alevare" Act 1)
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), composed the tango operita, Maria de Buenos Aires, based on a libretto by the renowned poet Horacio Ferrer (1933-2014). The work premiered in May 1968 at Sala Planeta in Buenos Aires and initiated a series of fruitful collaborations between these two artists. Piazzolla had heard a recitation of Ferrer’s anthology of poems entitled Romancero Canyengue in 1967 and felt that the combination of his music and Ferrer’s words would form integral parts of an indivisible whole. The opera was originally conceived with Egle Martin in mind for the title role, but the part premiered with Amelita Baltar as María, Héctor de Rosas in the role of Cantor / El Gorrión and Ferrer as the narrator, El Duende. The orchestration based on Piazzolla’s quintet of bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, piano and double bass, was augmented by the addition of a second violin, viola, cello, flute, drums and percussion.
The opera narrates the resurrection, death, life and birth of María, a prostitute of Buenos Aires, through music poetry, surrealism and tango. It begins at night when the Goblin (Duende), who has fallen in love with Maria, summons her forsaken image over a crack in the asphalt. Maria hears Duende's call and appears in the form of a tango melody. A singer recounts her story. Maria leaves the suburbs and finds herself wandering the streets of Buenos Aires. Duende accuses the bandoneon of corrupting Maria and tears it in two. Thieves and brothel-keepers in the city's underworld perform a grotesque mass and sentence her to death. Her body is buried, but her shadow wanders on. It writes letters to the trees and the chimneys, which protect her from the sun. Duende wants to bring her back to life, and sends her a message to say that she can be reborn. Marionettes, clay angels, bishops and travelling musicians set out to look for her in the streets. Her shadow proclaims that it is about to give birth. Duende describes the Annunciation and the Birth of all births. But instead of the baby Jesus that everyone expects, before the wise-architects and the spaghetti-kneaders, on the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper under construction, Maria gives birth to a little Maria, herself.
Dark and surreal with references to the birth of the tango, the landscape and the cultural origins of Argentina, the subject matter and titles of each of the seventeen numbers that make up the two acts of the opera seems to dance between atheism and devout Catholicism. What is clear, however, is that with its chorus of analysts, marionettes and spaghetti kneaders, Maria is influenced by the chorus of the Ancient Greek tragedy which functions as a collective voice that comments on the comings and goings on the stage.
Inspired by these associations, we performed Piazzolla and Ferrer’s masterpiece in an open-air amphitheater in the summer of 2009 in Greece. Mirroring Greek tragedy, we used a variety of masks for the chorus and a minimalist set of reconfigurable stage pieces managed by the chorus members.
Anastasios Mavroudis (direction)
Maria Kougioumtzi (costume/set design)
Alis Fouroujian (choreography)
Aty (mask design)
Spyros Kosivas (video animation)
Elias Benito-Arranz (duende)
Ana Schwedhelm (maria)
David Mercado (cantor)
Anastasios Mavroudis (violin)
Amadej Herzog (bandoneon)
Antonis Hatzinikolaou (guitar)
Anahit Chaushyan (piano)
James Opstad (double bass)
Pavel Mansurov (flute)
Magdalena Pietraszewska (cello)
Manuel Arciniega (percussion)
Barnaby Archer (vibraphone)