Friday, 19 March 2010

La Orquesta del Tango de Buenos Aires vuelve al Alvear

Rachel y Eduardo's message invites me to attend a tango concert at the Teatro Alvear in the heart of the city. I know precisely where the theatre is situated in Corrientes 1659, my former apartment at Tucuman being simply three blocks away. Today I have arranged to meet Maggie. She is a fellow northerner, student and friend of Tanya and Howard who teach in Cumbria. Whilst at an Ireby milonga I had told her about my 6 month Sabbatical, and she has replicated it. She is now in the final two months, having successfully survived the city and tango.

I make my way on foot through San Telmo and out across Avendia 9 Julio into Corrientes. As I approach the theatre I pass the street sweepers who collect the hundreds of leaflets strewn by political activists following their recent demonstration. Demonstrations in Buenos Aires are an art form, and way of life. This is a highly political nation with a democratic voting system. The activists however are part of the political process and their presence appears to influence government policy. This may be due to sensitivity from the recent history of the 'disparus', 30,0000 people, mainly men: husbands, fathers and brothers, who were simply disappeared by the government in the decade from 1976, and whose lives are remembered by the women; mothers, sisters and wives, who gather in Plaza de Mayo every Thursday at 1530 hours where they walk anticlockwise round the square to remember their dead.

The theatre is on the north side of the famous Corrientes, the 'street that never sleeps'. Flocks of mature Portenios (the name for the local residents of Buenos Aires) move steadily into the foyer and on to the downstairs stalls. Maggie arrives in the nick of time and we make our way to two front circle centre seats that are fortuitously still free in an otherwise packed to bursting theatre.

The concert starts on time. This in Buenos Aires is an unusual feature, but probably because the concert is funded by the city who have hired the theatre on an hourly basis. The lights dim and twenty eight performers come to the platform. The orchestra seems to have been constituted especially for this performance. There are 13 violins and violas, three cellos, one base, two woodwind, one pianist, two percussion, two guitars and of course four bandoneon, both the queen and spirit of tango. The atmosphere in the audience is unusual for one whose average age will be over 65. As each piece concludes there is rapturous applause and calls from the rows of grey haired enthusiasts. The conductor acknowledges it with great satisfaction. The orchestra stand, the bandoneon players removing the soft leather covers that protect their precious instruments from friction against their knees. And now Marcelo Tommasi makes an entrance stage right. Tall, commanding and searingly handsome, he walks onto the stage like a true Porteno. He exudes huge charm, and then he sings. The audience hush as if a quiet drape has been placed over them. Tommasi's voice is a rich mahogany barritone; it rings out across the stalls and lifts to the circle. His dark eyes flash, his gestures describing the love, pain, loss, emotion of tango. His voice still hovers as the audience leap to their feet with a demonstration of appreciation that says, like tango, you too are our son. The programme continues, the strings soar in wide arks of sound, and the principal violin flirts with the flute, like Casanova seducing a virgin. But the bandoneon hold the stage, with sounds that not simply pluck or breath over the heart, but take it from its place and fill it with emotion and desire.

Outside is sun, hot and humid after a night of torrential downpours. We stroll towards the little patisseria for hot empanadas and apple cake. And then onward into the day with thoughts of tango and an urge to dance.