Saturday, 26 March 2011

Virginia Tola

Can you sense it? I have fallen in love! Two nights ago I spent the evening with a beautiful, sensual woman with whom I travelled to the stars and back. Her name is Virginia, and she was born in Santa Fe, Argentina. She is a singer. In fact, a soprano. Her voice is like silk drawn across skin, until she ascends in her almost unlimited register - when one's skin is covered with goose bumps, the silk flies on the wind, and one's heart reduced to jelly.

I have to admit that she and I were not alone, although when she looked penetratingly into my eyes, I felt that we were one. A supporting singer called Placido Domingo was also present for some of the time, as were 149,999 other opera lovers who were levered into 1 kilometre of 20 lanes of Avenida Julio 9th by Obelisco in the centre of Buenos Aires. This was one of the free concerts sponsored by the Capital Federal, attended by the average population of 10 square kilometres of the city. One week ago, Edda had queued for over two hours for the allotted two tickets. Clutching them, she returned to San Telmo triumphantly and waved them beneath my nose, telling me that if I did exactly as she asked, I could share her prize. So after my week of devoted attention, rewarded we made our way on the number 9 colectivo out across the furthest points of Avenidas Independencia, Belgrano, Mayo and Corrientes, arriving at Obelisco in the heart of the city.

Our tickets were in 'sector A' where we arrived 2 hours before the performance; but were still over 80 metres back from the stage. Ahead of us was space reserved for another guest and her friends, about which I will speak later. Alongside our seats were the speakers and huge screens that would be repeated as far as Avenida Cordoba. Once at our seats we stood to gaze across heads that extended behind us further than one could see. This was a pulsating, excited landscape of faces - every age of child to the elderly - from rich Portenos to cartoneros - all expectant - all waiting to witness the opportunity of lifetime - to enrich their lives with beautiful music.

As we sat, talked, and ate nuts coated in creamy toffee from a passing vendor, or occasionally rose to stroll, the hot day drew to a close, the blossom continued to drop from the trees, parakeets flew erratically in small formations to their roosts, and a light cool breeze stirred the air. Edda pulled her cashmere top over her arms and shared her shawl, draping it tenderly across my shoulders. Night began to settle, the ark lights came on and the screens burst into life. Just at that moment, the crowd began to rise, their arms waving in the air. The deafening sound of a helicopter sending whirring paper and leafs high into the sky signalled her arrival. Ahead of us, it touched down and we realised why we were positioned back from the stage. Cristina Kirchner, the President of Argentina, stepped down, just like Eva Peron, and the show was ready to proceed.

The crowd had little time for a half-hearted slow hand-clap before the conductor of the vast Orchestra de Colon entered stage right. The cacophany of tuning ceased and the orchestra launched into a rousing prelude. The crowd, many of whom had spent the day in the city centre for El Dia de la Memoria, 35 years after the abolition of the dictatorship, went silent as the still night air and the magic of the evening commenced.

It would be hard, and is unnecessary to list the pieces performed, or to speak of the richness and diversity of Placido Domingo's voice, shaped by years of character. His charisma needs no further embellishment from me, nor would his wonderful humorous performance be enhanced by my words. But when from the wings the slim body of the beautiful Virginia Tola entered the stage, a spell was spun that would capture each and every heart. For a moment she stood. The conductor looked carefully towards her to await her nod. 150,000 faces looked out with expectation. The orchestra strained awaiting her first note. My heart stood still. Her voice soared. Our lives and appreciation of the female voice were changed for ever. From that moment, in a tangled love afair between me, Virginia and Placido, I, along with thousands of souls, was transported in time and space - away from the crowd - the Obelisco - the gathering gloom - the cares of life: in sunlight, by rich textures, the bright cerise of her dress and the pure gold of her voice.

The varied programme comprised opera, operetta and the popular music of Buenos Aires. It was the latter which finally roused the crowd. 'Besame Mucho', formerly so cheesy, here brought the whole audience to their feet to sing and to hug, and Edda lifted her face towards mine and blew a kiss. It was over two hours later, when Placido and Virginia had sung their last tango and 'Querida Buenos Aires', that the realities of existence were to creep back from where they had been banished. The orchestra, during the second half of the concert conducted by Placido Domingo with an energy that stopped one's breath, took their last bow. The stars departed the stage and the double bass player lowered his stand. In my moment of disorientation, Edda looked searchingly into my face. "Are you alright?", she asked with care and concern. "I'll be fine", I rejoined - knowing that whilst swept by the crowd, arm in arm into Suipacha towards San Telmo, my heart would be pinned for ever to one of life's most magical musical memories.
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