THE TANGO SINGER
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera
Music: Pablo Ziegler
Libretto: Leonard Foglia
Inspired by the novel "The Tango Singer" by Tomas Eloy Martinez
Running Time: appx. 1 Hour 40 min.
2 Act Opera
Supported by Opera America
Argentina, 1977. Workers, unionists, students, political activists—people across the country, especially the young, are disappearing, leaving desperate families seeking answers from the military regime that has taken control by force, overthrowing President Isabel Perón.
In Pablo Ziegler and Leonard Foglia’s new opera, The Tango Singer, these horrific historic events unfold alongside the love story between tango singer Julio Martel and Alcira, the niece of a military general. Despite—or because of—the repressive political environment that grips the country, love, courage, and the art of tango manage to flourish, inspiring the people and acting as a powerful form of resistance amid the fight for what is right.
The opera’s story is loosely based on the book The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez, who was forced into exile in 1975 because of his writings about Argentina’s paramilitary death squads.
Some 30 million Argentineans claim Italian heritage, and the culture of opera is deeply embedded in the country: every small city has an opera house. Yet until now, there has been no new opera by an Argentinean composer in Nuevo Tango style, other than the operetta Maria de Buenos Aires by Piazzolla.
The fictional character of Julio Martel, who has a physical disability—he is a hemophiliac who walks with a limp—was inspired by the real-life singer Luis Cardei, who also had a physical disability and is considered one of the greatest tango singers in history.
New York-based composer Pablo Ziegler grew up in Buenos Aires, the son of a tango violinist. Although he disparaged tango as a teen, considering it “for old people,” he went on to serve as pianist for Ástor Piazzolla for over a decade, from 1978 to 1989, and develop his own celebrated nuevo tango style.
“I live and breathe the life and music of Buenos Aires. The music for this opera will come from my memory and experience during the time this horrific event happened in Argentina, where too many people suffered due to political circumstances.
The protagonist, Julio Martel who is a great singer but is physically challenged, tries to find the purpose of his being. Interestingly enough, his disability is a metaphor for Argentina as a country.
We all try to find the meaning of life, what we were born to do. This opera made me realize my mission to tell the world, this dark history behind my beautiful city of Buenos Aires; what really happened, what people felt, through my Nuevo Tango musical composition.”
Pablo Ziegler - Composer
When the military stages a violent coup and takes over Argentina, deposing President Isabel Perón, the Argentinean people are divided up into two categories: those who support the new regime or are complicit through silence, and “subversives.”
Julio Martel, a tango singer who is physically disabled, wonders how someone as beautiful and kind as Alcira would want to be with him, but they are in love. Alcira has chosen a life of beauty and truth, although others in her orbit have not: her uncle is a general leading the new regime, and her ex, Victor, is a soldier who brands Martel as a subversive.
As the story continues, people start to disappear. Women take to the street seeking answers about their missing children. Ordinary citizens are forced to do horrible things, then murdered. As the atrocities continue, the protests get louder. A friend of Martel’s, a Montonero guerilla named Mocho, comes to visit. At the church, the women gather to pray and to deliver messages to one another out of the watch of the police. Martel performs in the plaza, leading the people in a song of resistance before being imprisoned and beaten.
As the guerillas plan to strike back at the junta, Mocho asks Martel to make the ultimate sacrifice: return to the plaza to sing again, thereby distracting the police. The next day, Martel begins to sing in the streets of Buenos Aires. Loved ones of the missing join him in songs of resistance. The police try to break up the crowds and begin beating Martel. As he dies in Alcira’s arms, we hear bombs going off in the distance. The tango singer has sacrificed himself for the people of his beloved Argentina.
Character and Voice type
Alcira – mezzo-soprano
Julio Martel – baritone
Victor – baritone
El Mocho – tenor
Alma – mezzo-soprano/contralto
Elsa – actress
Molina – tenor
The General – bass baritone
2 Tango Dancers
For decades, Buenos Aires-born, Grammy-winning pianist, composer and arranger Pablo Ziegler has been one of the most important figures in Argentine nuevo tango, the vibrant musical hybrid of traditional tango, American jazz, and European art music. “He is cool, understated and makes everything look easy and natural,” writes Mark Swed of The Los Angeles Times, “just as a really suave tango dancer seems not to move with feet but on wheels, Ziegler skates the keyboard.” After performing in tango grand-maestro Astor Piazzolla’s legendary quintet, appearing on iconic Piazzolla recordings including Tango: Zero Hour, La Camorra and Central Park Concert.
Ziegler has led his own groups for over 25 years, refining and re-imagining the bounds of the modern tango tradition. Touring throughout the world, Ziegler has performed at such esteemed venues as Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Muziekgebouw, Sydney Opera House, Colon Theatre, Victoria Hall, Sala Villa-Lobos del Teatro Nacional, Seoul Arts Center, Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Blue Note, Birdland, Ravenna Festival, Verbier Festival, Tokyo Jazz Festival, among others. Recent season highlights include a performance at the Royal Albert Hall during the BBC PROM, the Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and Central Park Naumberg Bandshell.
Ziegler has been a featured guest soloist with many major orchestras, playing his own compositions as well as the music of Piazzolla with the Britten Sinfonia, Colorado Symphony, the Presidential Orchestra of Turkey, the Charleston Symphony, the Metropole Orkest, and Jazz Sinfonica Orchestra in Brazil, and performs with Branford Marsalis, Regina Carter, Stefon Harris, Paquito D’Rivera, Kenny Garrett, Joe Locke, Randy Brecker, Nestor Torres, and others.
Ziegler's recording, Jazz Tango won the Grammy Award and he received multiple nominations. His work as music director, arranger and pianist for bass-baritone opera star Erwin Schrott earned an Echo Klassik Award for the album Rojotango. Ziegler records with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Emanuel Ax.
Leonard Foglia is a theatre and opera director as well as librettist. Foglia directed the world premieres of Moby Dick (filmed for PBS), Dallas Opera, San Francisco Opera, Kennedy Center, etc., Everest (Dallas Opera, etc); Cold Mountain (Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia);
The End of the Affair (Houston Grand Opera, etc); Three Decembers (HGO); It's a Wonderful Life (HGO). His production of Dead Man Walking was produced by New York City Opera and has been seen across the US as well at Teatro Real, Madrid and the Barbican, London.
He wrote the libretto and directed the ‘Mariachi operas' El Pasado Nunca Se Termina/The
Past Is Never Finished, with composer Jose "Pepe" Martinez, which was commissioned by and premiered at Lyric Opera of Chicago and had played at San Diego and Houston Grand Opera ; Cruzar la Cara de la Luna/To Cross the Face of the Moon also with composer Martinez, commissioned by and premiered at Houston Grand Opera and has played at
New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, San Diego Opera
and Théatre du Châtelet in Paris. He wrote the libretto and directed A Coffin in Egypt with
composer Ricky Ian Gordon which was commissioned by and premiered at Houston
Grand Opera and has played in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and The American
Songbook at Lincoln Center in New York.
He directed the Broadway productions of Master Class with Zoe Caldwell and Audra
McDonald, Thurgood with Laurence Fishburne (filmed for HBO), The People in the
Picture, On Golden Pond with James Earl Jones, Wait Until Dark with Marisa Tomei and
Quentin Tarantino and The Gin Game with Mr. Jones and Cicely Tyson.
In collaboration with
Fundacion Tomas Eloy Martinez
Agencia Casanova & Lynch
Abrams Artists Agency