Monday, October 21, 2013

Bulletins From BA #18

Bulletins From BA #18
21 octubre 2013

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Like any great city, Buenos Aires offers innumerable opportunities to hear live music. And although we don’t make the same effort to get out and listen as we once did (age and gravity do take their toll), from time to time A.J. and I flag a taxi and venture forth, usually to some interesting older theatre with horrible seats, to better inform our cultural outlook. Here are two examples for your consideration.

I - “Tango en Concierto”
Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina “Juan de Dios Filiberto”

From the program notes (my translation): “In 1932, the composer Juan de Dios Filiberto founded the ‘Orquesta Porteña’ which in 1948, under the high patronage to the arts made ​​by the government of General Juan Domingo Peron, passed into the orbit of the National State.

Today Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina ‘Juan de Dios Filiberto’ continues with its mission: to ‘develop, prioritize and promote music in all its Argentine manifestations with the goal to increase and form a national consciousness among the people’.”

I heard about this concert via Facebook from Sergio Rivas, an Argentine contrabass player with whom a friend of mine (with whom I use to play) has studied tango. The program included three selections by the orquesta, a “Trípitico para Contrabajo y Orquesta” con Solista Sergio Rivas, and several pieces featuring Trio (Martinez) 2+ Lifschitz. (Flute, guitar, bass, drums.)

It was a great program. Sergio is a wonderful bassist, the Trio is simply terrific, and the Orquesta… well, this was my first opportunity to listen to a group of más o menos 40 excellent musicians play tango. It was a wicked impressive experience. And, as is customary, the audience of porteños did not hesitate to make their enthusiasm known.

II - “Treemonisha” de Scott Joplin (Estreno en Argentina)
OID Opera (

I have in my musical back pocket several Ragtime compositions by Scott Joplin. Each is a small jewel and I am grateful that they translate so well from the original piano scores to the accordion. Joplin is a justifiably esteemed composer who passed, at the age of 49, much too soon.

That said, I must admit that I know next to nothing about “Treemonisha” (, Joplin’s grand operatic work, which was never properly produced during his lifetime. So, props to OID Opera for giving it a go and premiering it in Argentina. My experience of the evening was, unfortunately, less than satisfactory.

The major problem was that the 19-piece orchestra had serious intonation issues that could not readily be ignored. The singers were good, although the balance with the orchestra was hit-or-miss. The libretto, sung in English, was largely unintelligible, a not unexpected state of affairs in operatic productions. There were supertitles, of course. En español. Oh well, what can you do?

“Treemonisha” was meant to be performed by African-Americans, which is pretty tricky in Argentina, due to a severe scarcity of opera singers of African descent. So, members of the cast wore “conventional theatrical blackface,” à la Placido Domingo portraying Otello. The effect was discomfiting, particularly for those of us who are somewhat schooled on the history of blackface in America and its racist connotations.

[Sidebar: Can’t recall if I’ve recommended this before, but a rather thorough and strangely entertaining overview of blackface and minstrelsy is afforded in the film “Bamboozled,” directed by Spike Lee. Dude did his research.]

Finally, the venue, Teatro Empire (designed in Art Deco mode as a pretty cool hybrid of space ship and bee hive), was built in 1934. And still has THE ORIGINAL SEATS. From the moment we sat down, we experienced acute distress, a vexation that would have made it difficult to enjoy even a great performance, never mind a problematic one. Oh, bueno, ¿qué puedes hacer?



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