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Piazzola: Maria De Buenos Aires / Sidlin, Et Al

Release Date: 09/05/2006 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7668   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Astor Piazzolla
Performer:  Jennifer HinesPepe RaphaelCoco TrivisonoEnrique E. Andrade
Conductor:  Murry Sidlin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cascade Festival of Music Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PIAZZOLLA Maria de Buenos Aires Murray Sidlin, cond; Jennifer Hines (mez); Pepé Raphael (ten); Enrique E. Andrade (nar); Jorge “Coco” Trivisonno (bdn); Cascade Festival of Music CO KOCH 7668 (2 CDs: 92:36)

Astor Piazzolla’s “operita” or “tango opera” Maria de Buenos Aires first appeared in 1968. It was a financial disaster for Piazzolla—audiences didn’t know what to make of it—but he referred to it as one of the most important pieces he had ever Read more composed. The libretto was written by poet Horacio Ferrer, who collaborated with the composer on Balada para un loco and several other songs central to Piazzolla’s output. The tango does play a dominant role in Maria . Nevertheless, Maria is so much more than an opera made up of tangos. Musically, it has the richness and psychological depth of Piazzolla’s best work. The more it makes your feet move, the more it disturbs you.

The plot of Maria— such as it is—feels like a psychological collision between Dante, Lorca, and Brecht. The title character, born “on a day when God was drunk,” is dead when the opera begins, but she is recalled to life by a ballad singer, who may also be a spirit, as well as her former pimp. Over the next 90 minutes, we trace Maria’s tango-driven descent into Buenos Aires’s underworld of pimps, whores, thieves, and brothels. She “dies” (spiritually, at least), and is tormented by psychoanalysts and a bordello of puppets. At the end, she gives birth to a child, also named Maria, and we come full circle with the understanding that Maria is a sort of “Everywoman” who walks among all of us every day. That, at least, is my interpretation. I’ve read two different plot synopses of Maria de Buenos Aires , and there is strikingly little agreement between the two. (It doesn’t help that this new recording, sung in Spanish, includes no texts and translations.)

Maria de Buenos Aires suffers from version problems. An indifferently recorded live version on the Milan label, based on an adaptation of the score first presented in 1987, is about one-third shorter, adds several solo singers and a chorus, is scored differently, and is more operatic in style. I have not heard a more recent recording overseen by Piazzolla convert Gidon Kremer (Teldec), but apparently it is closer in style to the one reviewed here than Milan’s, even though it, too, is an arrangement—this time, by Leonid Desyatnikov—in which drums and percussion instruments have been omitted. A more or less “original cast” recording from 1968 supposedly presents the score in its most authentic form, but I will have to take that on faith, as it is difficult to find.

In other words, it is hard to evaluate this newcomer relative to what has come before, so perhaps it is best to take it on its own terms. To my ears, this sounds like a performance of which Piazzolla would have approved. It is gritty, sexy, and similar in spirit to his own recordings. In the title role(s), the almost baritonal (!) Jennifer Hines sings like a glorious freak of nature. (At the outset, I wondered if Andreas Scholl was ghost singing for her!) I had trouble believing that she was from Long Island and not the barrios of Buenos Aires. Her aria “Yo soy Maria” might have you breaking a sweat. In his role(s) as her innocent lover(s), Pepé Raphael has a nice, light quality—rather like Domingo, had he been a zarzuela tenor. Enrique E. Andrade is evocative as the narrator/El duende, aka “The Goblin.” At some points, his voice is multiplied and overlapped post-production to create a sinister turba -like quality—more effective than the actual chorus on the Milan recording. Bandoneonist “Coco” Trivisonno plays in the tradition of Piazzolla, although it would be even better to hear Piazzolla himself in this work. (Perhaps the CD fairy will put this under my pillow one of these nights!) Sidlin and his ensemble of 11 musicians accompany the singers as if to the manner born.

Because I’ve not heard the Teldec set, I’m hesitant to put all my eggs in Koch’s basket. I do know that the competing version has texts and translations, and that would be a decided advantage. Still, I am very impressed by what I am hearing here, and it easily eclipses the Milan CD, so if you are intrigued by what I have written, go for it.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Maria de Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla
Performer:  Jennifer Hines (Mezzo Soprano), Pepe Raphael (Tenor), Coco Trivisono (Bandoneon),
Enrique E. Andrade (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Murry Sidlin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cascade Festival of Music Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; Argentina 
Venue:  Town Theater, Bend, OR 
Length: 42 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Language: Spanish 
Notes: Town Theater, Bend, OR (06/13/2005 - 06/15/2005) 

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