BBC Music Magazine
María de Buenos Aires Daniel Bonilla-torres, Luciana Mancini, Johannes Mertes; Beethoven Orchester Bonn/ Christopher Sprenger
Capriccio C5305 87:34 mins (2 discs) Astor Piazzolla’s one and only opera María de Buenos Aires (1968) is a corker. Packed full of toe-tapping tunes and spinetingling orchestration, it should be a regular on stages worldwide. The fact that it isn’t is partly down to its classification: like much of Piazzolla’s output, María de Buenos Aires crosses several genres, written in the composer’s distinctive nuevo tango style that combines fugue with Argentinian folk. Naturally, there are dance numbers aplenty, plus narration – leaving venues with a problem: is this an opera-ballet, musical or operetta?
Theater Bonn got around the issue with a concert staging in 2016, from which this recording is taken. Mezzo-soprano Luciana Mancini makes a mesmerising María, the eponymous heroine who meets her end in the sordid underworld of Buenos Aires. The work features a payador, a traditional South American poet who acts as narrator throughout. Daniel Bonilla-torres convinces in that role as storyteller El Duende, propelling Horacio Ferrer’s weird and wonderful libretto to its tragic finale. Bonillatorres shares the additional singing roles (including psychoanalysts, rolling pins and dolls) with
In the score, there are echoes of Bernstein’s early stage works (Wonderful Town; West Side Story). Christopher Sprenger conducts the Bonn Beethoven Orchestra and additional players – including Lothar Hensel on bandoneon (an Argentinian concertina) in an accomplished, if not exactly gritty, reading. Act I needs a shade more foreshadowing, and Act II – in which María is replaced by her shadow, in a more ominous manner of Peter Pan – would benefit from greater emotional turbulence. Claire Jackson PERFORMANCE ★★★ RECORDING ★★★★