Maria de Buenos Aires

Washington Post - Cecilia Porter, March 19, 2001

The music of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, creator of the New Tango style, has recently attracted so much attention that musicologists held a symposium on his work last year at the City University of New York. After years of indifferent public response to his compositions, Piazzolla, who died in 1992, suddenly became front-page news for New York's Latin aficionados. On Friday, a musical ensemble drawn largely from Washington's Pan American Symphony Orchestra brought Piazzolla's "Maria de Buenos Aires" to the Lisner Auditorium stage.

A compromise between grand and light opera, Piazzolla's "operita" expands the tango genre to theatrical dimensions with a surreal plot intermingling sociological commentary, symbolic allusions to Catholic liturgy, and lust.

Argentina's song-dance tango evolved from Andalusian, African, and Cuban rhythms and melodies, implanted in the urban slums of Buenos Aires in the late 1800s. Though in his operita Piazzolla adds elements of classical music and jazz to tango, his "new" version seems more reminiscent of familiar musical idioms ranging from Parisian cabaret, Kurt Weill, Looney Tunes and Xavier Cugat.

Conductor Sergio A. Buslje whipped up an energetic performance, with first-rate soloists. The most dazzling contributions came from Raul Jaurena on the bandoneón (accordion) and pianist Jeffrey Watson.