Maria de Buenos Aires | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Maria de Buenos Aires 

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He's hailed now as the man who breathed new life into tango, but for a long time purists detested Astor Piazzolla, accusing him of unnecessary complexity and elitism. Starting in the 50s Piazzolla, who died in 1992, transformed the genre he loved by expanding its lexicon, adding dissonant touches and chromatic harmony and jazzing it up in general. He didn't deign to write for dancers, so he founded the Quinteto Tango Nuevo in the early 60s to escort the form into the concert hall; he played the bandoneon on his right leg in defiance of tradition. In 1968 he wrote Maria de Buenos Aires, which he called a "tango operita" to emphasize his classical leanings. But Maria is really a long medley of 22 moody tango songs and instrumental interludes held together by the barest hint of a plot; more parable than drama, it loosely traces the path of a naif turned whore. The tunes, with titles such as "Fugue and Mystery," "In the Convent of Souls," and "The Circus of Analysts," are now celebrated for their contemporary sentiments, surreal sensibility, and ingenuity--part Weill and part Gershwin. Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, one of the most astute interpreters of 20th-century music, showed himself a Piazzolla partisan a couple years ago with a compilation CD of shapely tangos called Hommage a Piazzolla (Nonesuch). His classically trained octet gets a sharper, more disciplined sound than your average tango band--it treats Piazzolla as if he were Bach. It's a valid approach, but one that deprives tango of some of its sensual honky-tonk essence. Kremer and friends recently recorded Maria for Teldec using a streamlined arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov that dispenses with the choral parts. Most of the cast from the recording--including Argentine poet Horacio Ferrer, who wrote the original libretto, as the narrator and singer Julia Zenko as Maria--will reassemble for this Chicago premiere. Raul Lavie will sing the male roles. Monday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Alexandra Kremer.

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