I had just sung my first Salome, the opera where the soprano not only sings but dances for 8 minutes in the (in)famous Dance of the Seven Veils.
Not having danced on stage for a while, and never solo at such length and in so little clothing, I had been pretty nervous, but Ballet Rambert put me in touch with Kati Codogno and I was a success. Not only that, but I got back into regular dance classes and started dancing tango.
I was living and working in Rome, preparing various operatic roles (including my first Tosca), and began collaborating with the Latin American musicians I found there. I realised that their musical training was absolutely entwined with dance, which really influences the way they sing and play. I wanted to explore that. I started dancing tango in Rome where it is very popular in 2010.
I was also getting older, and recognised that, despite my experience, the operatic roles I wanted to sing would gradually become less available to me. So I decided to see if I could mount my own show, a fusion of tango and opera themes. I loosely based it on Verdi’s opera La Traviata, in which I’ve often sung the iconic soprano role of Violetta, but I updated it to a 1940s Buenos Aires Milonga.
I wrote the script in May 2012, Omar Puente and Julian Rowlands, big jazz and tango stars, both quickly came on board, intrigued by this opera singer who sang tangos. I think we were in the first phase of such fusion shows. These artists were absolutely crucial to the development of the collective.Kati Codogno was the movement director.
Violetta’s Last Tango premiered at Kings Place in London in 2013.
So apart from me, what is the link with Italian opera? The culture and poetry of tango are rather different but it is no coincidence that many important tango musicians came from an Italian background. Canaro, Pugliese, D’Arienzo, Piazzolla are among the best known. Opera and Tango are both melodramatic and require a big performing personality.
The tango diva is often an older woman who has to give up her lover (the case also with Verdi’s Violetta). Many tango lyrics speak specifically of characters in Italian operas, for example Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Mimi… These characters come into my show as ‘ghosts’ of tango… the reality of the grim but colourful life of the immigrants to Buenos Aires who brought their musical culture with them is always touched by dignity and grandeur and magic realism.
And how about Tango dance? I was lucky enough to attract to the show some of London’s top Tango dancers, including Mina and Giraldo, and David and Kim Benitez, choreographers and my tango teachers for the last 5 years. At Wiltons Music Hall in April we will be joined by another well-known couple, Miriam and Dante. Together we mix contemporary dance with pure Tango, and Tango music with popular operatic themes, all recognisable to any kind of audience.
Something that makes the show particularly accessible is that I have translated myself, many of the tango lyrics into English. The much greater understanding of Tango that this can open up has been welcomed, for example by the great Argentinian bandoneonist Victor Villena, a close colleague of Julian Rowlands who produced our cd this time last year .
I love Tango and am now so immersed in it I can’t see myself stopping! I and leading UK bandoneonist Julian Rowlands will be at Dublin’s National Concert Hall in June this year with tangos from our cd (launched at Pizza Express Pheasantry last April) but also Piaf numbers, exploring the connection with the culture of Piaf’s Paris and Buenos Aires.
And in July 2018 I will be appearing with Julian’s Tango Siempre at the newly renovated Purcell Room QEH in our show Tangos for Angels and Demons. All very exciting. I feel so lucky to be appearing with all these fantastic musicians who are at the forefront of Tango music in the UK!