By RAY PICOT
TangOpera welcomed us to the ‘theatre of tango’ featuring Leonardo Pastore and Helen Glaisher-Hernández with special guests, in their unique exploration of the seductive allure of the tango on Wednesday evening 15 May 2019 at The Crazy Coqs in London’s West End. The venue has an intimate, chic, retro ambience, perfectly suited to the style of the event, with a relaxed capacity audience seated around low-lit tables.
TangOpera (a concept and a collective of classically-trained musicians) presented a programme which was an exciting tour de force of this popular genre, from its roots in bel canto opera, Italian canzonetta and the Cuban habanera through to the golden age of tango canción and Carlos Gardel, to the art songs of classical composers including Bizet, Ginastera, Guastavino and Piazzolla.
Helen Glaisher-Hernández offered a warm and approachable guide through the programme, providing illumination and interest, as much of the music was new to the audience, with translated interjections from Leonardo Pastore - an extraordinary tenor who provided tango’s beating heart. In fact this was Leonardo Pastore’s first classical London concert. Now one of Argentina’s leading operatic tenors (and best-kept secrets), began his career as a tango singer.
From the opening piece, Milonga de los hermanos by Guastavino it was clear that both singer and pianist had a special rapport, as they inhabited the landscape of the Argentine metropolis and the extraordinary tale of two brothers in a veritable Cain and Abel tale. The subtle rhythm of the milonga was further explored in Ginastera’s Canción al árbol del olvido, perhaps the composer’s most famous song, which was given a touching and heartfelt performance.
Up stepped the young violinist Emma Arizza to join Helen in a show-stopping rendition of Sarasate’s exploration of Bizet’s ever popular Carmen ‘habanera’ (another dance form that connects with the tango). The duo responded to this with a keen sense of the opera’s drama whilst drawing out the sweet and cajoling lines.
Carlos Gardel is considered by many to be the epitome of tango, and Leonardo returned to the stage to take on this leading man role alongside the instrumental duo, in El día que me quieras. The influence of operatic music is very apparent in this song, with Leonardo infusing the music with warm and lyrical colours, enhanced by some lovely duetting with Emma, taking us to the very soul of tango.
The Italian connection was explored further in a delightful Neapolitian song Dicitincello vuie by Rodolfo Falvo, in a perfect example of a popular song, which has been taken up by the great tenors. This piece drew from Leonardo and Helen a heartfelt and dramatic performance which proved quite mesmerising, as was reflected in the eyes of the audience and their rapturous applause.
Hernan Malagoli, Leonardo’s usual partner at the piano, came on stage to accompany him in Enrique Delfino’s Griseta, with the tenor adding further accompaniment on his guitar. This was the first time the duo had played together in Europe and they really dug into the emotional entanglements of this very special piece, a classic tango-song from its golden era of the 1930s, full of drama and tragedy.
We returned to Helen, Leonardo and Emma as Renaldo Hahn took us to Venice in ‘La barcheta’, with this touching French-influenced song written in the Venetian dialect, having a lovely chorus line which was enhanced by Emma’s seductive violin.
We were next joined by a further special guest, the soprano Christin Wismann; she joined Helen and Emma in a truly captivating performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Ave Maria, which proved to be a fascinating marriage of nuevo-tango and sacred music, truly appreciated by the audience.
Piazzolla’s Los pájaros perdidos (‘The Lost Birds’) is as Leonardo and Helen explained a story about ‘the one that got away’, relaxed and passionate by turn with a hint of regret and resignation, with dramatic reinforcement of the story brought out superbly by Helen on the piano.
Helen explained something about the life of the gaucho on Argentina’s pampas, and their vigorous zapateado rhythms, a kindred spirit to flamenco in a second song by Guastavino. This composer was nicknamed ‘the Schubert of the Pampas’ which seemed most appropriate in Pampamapa where his wonderful melodic lines were lovingly delineated by Leonardo and Helen, to the distinctive malambo rhythm.
A song of the southern Spanish immigrants arriving in Argentina was evoked in: ‘Adiós Granada’ from the zarzuela Emigrantes by Tomas Barrera and Rafael Calleja, where a sense of pathos was winningly portrayed by the duo against the drama of flamenco. The final dramatic vocal flourish drew spontaneous applause.
Ending on a popular note, we were treated to Puccini’s evergreen ‘Nessun dorma’ from his opera Turandot. Leonardo’s inspired and truly emotional performance was sensational whilst Helen proves that the accompanying pianist can be the equal of the singer, orchestrating the text with colour and rhythm. The audience needed no encouragement to join into the singing of this classic aria.
This ended a memorable evening and one where it was evident that the musicians enjoyed themselves as much as the audience, perhaps in no small part due to the intimacy of the venue.