France Festival Arsmondo Argentina  – Cuando sean las seis, Histoire d’un voyage: Armando Noguera (baritone), Diego Aubia (piano), Juan José Mosalini (bandonéon), Alejandro Schwarz (guitar), Opéra de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, 22.3.2019. (RP)
Astor Piazzolla – ‘Libertango’, ‘Vuelvo al sur’, ‘Los pájaros perdidos’, ‘Oblivion’, ‘Balada para un loco’, ‘Balada para mi muerte’
Alfredo Le Pera – ‘Mi Buenos Aires querido’, ‘Et día que me quieras’, ‘Volver’
Atilio Stampone – ‘Fiesta y Milonga’
Virgilio Expósito – ‘Naranho en flor’
Angel Cabral – ‘Que nadie sepa mi sufrir’
José Colángelo – ‘Y ahora qué haré’
Eladia Blázquez – ‘A un semejante’
Mariano Mores – ‘Uno’, ‘Cristal’
Pedro Laurenz – ‘Milonga de mis amores’
There was glorious spring weather in Strasbourg this past weekend with cherry and magnolia trees in full bloom. That alone would have been worth the trip, but the music of Argentina was what brought me there. From 15 March to 17 May 2019, the Opéra national du Rhin, in conjunction with other cultural institutions in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar, is showcasing Argentina through opera, concerts, readings, conferences, meetings, film and exhibitions under the banner of the Festival Arsmondo Argentina. This is the second edition of the festival; last year’s focus was on Japan.
On Friday evening at the Strasbourg Opera House, it was tango time. In the program, pianist Diego Aubia was described as having a passion for it, guitarist Alejandro Schwarz as a specialist in the genre and bandonéonist Juan José Mosalini as a master of modern tango. Baritone Armando Noguera’s biography lists his many operatic roles, but there is no mention of any forays into popular song. Perhaps he will soon be adding a line or two to it, as he proved to be a natural and consummate performer of the tango.
Argentinian tangos, which originated in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, are ripe with nostalgia and sadness, often lamenting lost love. Among the composers associated with the genre, Astor Piazzolla has gained international recognition, although his compositional efforts go far beyond the tango. The others whose music was performed were active as entertainers, recording artists and film composers. Eladia Blázquez, the only woman composer represented on the program, was routinely criticized for breaking the rules of tango. She also strove to take the macho out of it.
Noguera had the stance of a bull fighter: torso and legs stock still and his head frequently cocked in triumph or despair. Comparisons to other great singer/stylists were inevitable – Édith Piaf, Charles Aznavour and Jacques Brel sprang to mind – but undoubtedly his inspirations were the Argentinian proponents of the tango, of whom I know nothing. However, I do know something about singers, and the man’s voice and communicative powers are exceptional. The music was not only in his throat, it was in his heart. He sang without amplification, so nothing stood between him and the audience.
The drama came from not only the music but Noquera’s movements, as when he turned his eyes to heaven at the conclusion of Le Pera’s ‘Et día que me quieras’ (‘The day when you love me’), singing of stars jealous at the sight of a couple so in love. Piazzolla’s ‘Balada para un loco’ (‘Ballad for a crazy one’) called upon him to speak, and at times yell, of the wild abandon of being in love. Some of the most beautiful moments were in Blázquez’s ‘A un semejante’, in which voice and bandonéon engaged in a bittersweet dialogue about good and evil.
The bandonéon, a type of concertina brought to Argentina by Italian and German immigrants and sailors, is an essential instrument in tango ensembles. Guitarist Alejandro Schwarz’s arrangements of the songs, as well as the three instrumental pieces on the program – Piazzolla’s ‘Libertango’ and ‘Oblivion’ and Laurenz’s ‘Milonga de mis amores’ – provided ample opportunity to hear the mesmerizing sounds that Mosalini produced on his instrument. Melodies flowed easily among the three, and all took turns on percussion instruments as well. In Laurenz’s ‘Milonga’ (an excited version of the habanera and a precursor to the tango), pianist Diego Aubia was called upon to stamp his feet.
The program’s title, ‘Cuando sean las seis’ (‘When the clock strikes six’), comes from the last line of the final song, Piazzollo’s ‘Balada para mi muerte’ (‘Ballad for my death’). Noguera sang of anticipating death at dawn, with all the things needed to live at hand – poetry, tobacco, tango – and an unfinished glass of whiskey on the table. As the final notes sounded, the house went dark.
Two tangos were reprised as encores. Mosalini sifted among the pages of music strewn about him on the floor to locate the right ones, to his and the audience’s amusement. He was by far the oldest man on stage, delighted to acknowledge both the applause and cheer on a younger generation of artists dedicated to the tango.
For more about the Arsmondo Festival click here.