Violetta’s Last Tango – an operatic dance-drama
The show is a fully staged and choreographed performance by two singers, two tango dancers and
four musicians. The musical score uses 20 original tango arrangements with ironic operatic
references (a mixture of Bizet, Francisco Canaro, Carlos Gardel, Astor Piazzolla Verdi, Puccini and
others). The storyline – an older woman/tango singer forced to give up her young lover – is very
loosely based on Verdi’s opera ‘La Traviata’ and the show explores, through song, dance and drama,
the mixture of Italian, French and Argentine musical and cultural traditions which lie at the heart of Tango.
The performers are internationally recognised professionals who have been brought together by a
common interest in the crossover of their genres: opera, dance and Latin American
jazz. Operatic soprano Ann Liebeck and contemporary dancer and Fado singer Nuno Silva are joined
by top tango dance couple Mina and Giraldo (Evita and Midnight Tango) and Cuban jazz violinist
Omar Puente’s Guest Tango Band. This features West End regular, pianist Michael Haslam, and
Tango Siempre’s Julian Rowlands on bandoneon and Rory Dempsey on bass.
The musical arrangements are by Julian Rowlands (Olivier award nominated for his arrangements
of the score of Midnight Tango), Latin Grammy award-winning Argentinian composer Nicolás
‘Colacho’ Brizuela and young British composer Alex McGery.
The choreography and movement direction is a collaboration between 2014 LUKAS award-winning
Argentinian dancer David Benitez, regular Rambert Dance choreographer Kati Codogno, Mina and
Giraldo and Nuno Silva.
The set is Cabaret-style with extensive use of beautiful projections of paintings by artist Gilles
Gubelmann, silent-movie style artistic subtitles and film.
VLT was launched at Kings Place London on 8 December 2013 to a full house as a 55 minute show with 6 performers. It has since been presented at Purcell Room QEH (May 2014) in a full length 85 minute show with additional tango dancers, Mina and Giraldo, and with David and Kim Benitez at artsdepot theatre Finchley in March 2015. A reduced version for 3 performers, Nuno Silva, Julian Rowlands and Ann Liebeck was presented to 4 **** and enthusiastic audience reviews at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A spin off, ‘ An Afternoon in Buenos Aires’ with Julian Rowlands on piano and bandoneon and Ann Liebeck was presented at Dublin National Concert Hall in June 2015.
The show exists in the original tango languages of French and Spanish and now in a new English language version, with additional numbers, translated specially for artsdepot theatre.
Thoughts on the fusion of tango with opera
Musically and poetically, in both genres grand emotions are expressed melodramatically, even if the characters come from the street, and indeed the gutter. Many of the families of the early tango composers of the 1930s arrived penniless in Buenos Aires from Palermo and Naples at the beginning of the twentieth century. Francisco Canaro and Sebastian Piana are two examples . They brought with them the nineteenth century opera tunes by Verdi and Mercadante and melancholic Sicilian and Neapolitan songs which were both sung in the streets.
The fusion of Italian melody and operatic passion with the European vals and the milonga and habanera rhythms of the Argentinians of the countryside creates a potent mix for a fascinating art form.
Astor Piazzolla’s tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires, now performed regularly in theatres all over Europe, fuses the archetype of the self-sacrificing mother and corrupted, once innocent whore in a cast of fascinating characters, which became established in the tangos of the 1920s. The man who corrupted her, the compadrito, the barman, the rival, the ageing brothel madame and the gambler of Gardel’s famous tango Por un Cabeza are all central characters in Tango. Then there is the dying lover, the Lady of the Camellias, familiar from nineteenth century literature. We also see the influence of operatic fin-de-siècle Paris and La Vie Bohème in the tango lyrics of Griseta quoted above. The grisettes, or working class girls, of La Bohème and Manon Lescaut are only one step removed from Verdi’s Violetta, La Traviata; the one who went astray. Mimi and Violetta, two of the most romantic heroines of opera, die from the common nineteenth century disease of consumption. Evita Peron, who rose to the heights of glamour and influence in the 1930s, is another fascinating example of la Paisanita, the country girl. She becomes a tango singer and movie star in the city, mistress then wife to a powerful man, mother-figure to the poorest people in the country, and ultimately sacrifices her influence for the sake of his career only to die of cancer shortly after. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber brilliantly translated this near contemporary legend to modern times, bringing the archetype up to date and into the musicals tradition of Broadway and the West End. Evita, the film starring Madonna, and Moulin Rouge starring Nicole Kidman are Hollywood musicals which brought tango music firmly into mainstream culture in the 1990s after a period when it had survived largely in niche tango dance venues or in jazz clubs and on the cabaret circuit. In our ever-shrinking world, cross-fertilisation and the commercialisation of culture have brought Tango music into our living rooms with Strictly Come Dancing or in Italy, Ballando con le Stelle. Tango speaks to all of us and is hugely popular with enthusiastic amateurs in dance schools everywhere.