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Cover art of old tango music scores

Browsing around the stalls at the mercado de San Telmo reveals some enchanting relics buried amidst an exhausting range of junk. On Saturday we came away with a set of old music scores, partituras. Not unexpectedly in Buenos Aires, much of the sheet music is tango though an occasional opera score is intermixed with the tango.

Never having learned to play any instruments, we’re more interested in the cover art rather than the actual sheet music. Some of the graphic design is really very good. The archivist in me wants to hope that somewhere there is a collection preserving all this stuff. These images didn’t come out very good since the sheet music covers are too large for our scanner, so these are just a few poorly done snapshots.

Depending upon the vendor, you might pay 25 pesos and up for one of these scores from the 1920s.

But if you search around some of the junkier booths, you can find some for only 5 pesos.

The typography is outstanding. I’m sure these can be found at a lot of places around Buenos Aires and not just the mercado de San Telmo. That’s just the closes place to where I live.

So, if you’re stuck for ideas about a unique gift or memento of your trip to Buenos Aires, then consider old tango sheet music….suitable for framing.

Buenos Aires Opera: The Opening Season of Teatro Colón, 1908

With the renovation of Teatro Colón behind schedule, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, the theater will not be ready for its 100th anniversary on May 25th. I also noticed that the Teatro Colón has a new web site, much nicer than the older one (though as of today the new site is still lacking a lot of information).

Let’s take a look back at the 1908 season of Teatro Colón, which was filled with productions.

Aida by Verdi
Performed: May 25, 26, & 28

Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas
Six performances starting on May 30

Madama Butterfly by Puccini
Five performances starting on June 4

Tristán e Isolda by Wagner
Performed: June 10, 12, & 20; July 2 & 7; August 8

Rigoletto by Verdi
Five performances starting on June 14

Tosca by Puccini
Three performances starting on June 16

La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli
Five performances starting on June 24, including a gala performance for July 9.

Paolo y Francesca by Luigi Mancinelli
Performed: July 4 & 5, August 1

Mefistófeles by Arrigo Boito
Six performances starting on July 12

Otello by Verdi
Performed: July 18, 23, & 26; August 21

El Barbero de Sevilla by Rossini
Performed: July 28 & 30; August 16, 23, & 30

Ipagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Performed: August 5, 11, & 25; September 11

Il Trovatore by Verdi
Performed: August 6, 9, 14, & 23; September 6

Cendrillon by Jules Massenet
Three performances starting on August 13

Don Giovanni by Mozart
Performed: August 18, 20, & 27

Sigfrido by Wagner
Performed: August 29 & 30; September 3 & 7

Aurora by Hector Panizza
Performed: September 5, 8, & 9

Arrival of the Italian Singers (A history of opera in Buenos Aires, part II)

Continues part I….

Early 1800s a family of singers – husband, wife, brother-in-law – tour the north of Italy, stopping in Piacenza and Reggio Emilia. Performances are becoming more scare as their style of comic opera falls out of fashion for the serious, grander sounds of Rossini. The troupe hears about opportunities in the Americas. The voyage is difficult, still by sail not steam. They play before the royal court in Rio de Janeiro, then head south into the towns of the Rio de la Plata.

The Buenos Aires that they find is not the pseudo-European capital of the later 18th century. The immigration boom has not yet arrived. Early opera productions are not full-length performances, just selections, highlights. Roles depend upon availability, a baritone sings the part of the tenor, a contralto passes herself off as a soprano. This singing family decides to settle in the area eventually becoming teachers, instructing others in the art of music.

The pattern of a family troupe traveling to South America from Italy was repeated throughout the early parts of the 1800s. The singers who came to Argentina in that time were never the leading performers. Buenos Aires received only the ones whose careers were fading, that never really got started, or that were just attempting to make a name for themselves.

Teresa Schieroni and Margherita Garavaglia are two such singers who arrived in Buenos Aires in the late 1820s. From here they traveled on to Chile and Peru before making their way across the Pacific to performances in south Asia. The women were to sail on to Calcutta but there are no reports of their arrival. Like most of us, the pair simply disappeared from history.

Some of the early singers may, in fact, have had very good voices but the opera profession in Italy, then as now, was overcrowded and competitive. Separate circuits developed for Central America and the Caribbean. European performers who traveled to Havana and Caracas rarely made their way to the southern part of the continent.

Serious opera in Buenos Aires languished until the 1850s, coinciding with the fall of Rosas. The mid-century century saw a new society emerging. In 1857 Buenos Aires opened the first Teatro Colón which featured Emma La Grua, one of the first top ranked singers to perform in Argentina. Opera season was starting in Buenos Aires.

What was opera in Buenos Aires like during the late 1800s? Coming in part III.

The Closing of Teatro Colón (A History of Opera in Buenos Aires, part 1)

Update: May 25, 2010 – Teatro Colón is now re-opened after a 3 year renovation..

At the end of the month, Buenos Aires great opera house Teatro Colón will be closing its doors for a year and a half while the building is renovated. Teatro Colón is scheduled to re-open on May 25, 2008.

(Having been involved myself in a couple of major building renovation projects, I’m sure everyone managing the renovation of the Colón is worried about meeting that deadline. Already, even the announcement on the theater’s Web site says that Teatro Colón will re-open with “most of the works completed.” To see what’s going to be happening, take a look at the master plan for the restoration of Teatro Colón.)

Some history

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the history of Teatro Colón and opera in Buenos Aires, particularly the influence of Italian immigrants on the local opera scene. So, I’ve decided to create a series of postings, sort of a history of opera in Buenos Aires. I’m not yet sure how many postings will be in this series, but I’m going to try and keep the postings short: nuggets of information rather than encyclopedic. Anyone with more knowledge about any of these topics, please jump in with comments. I’m just learning these things as I read, passing along what’s interesting.

A brief history of Teatro Colón itself is available on its Web site. (That same link is available in Spanish).

While the present Teatro Colón will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2008, there actually was another Teatro Colón that was built in 1857 across from Plaza de Mayo, where the Banco de la Nación is located. The first Teatro Colón closed in 1888. While the new Teatro Colón was being built over the following 18 years, the dominant opera house in Buenos Aires was Teatro de la Ópera, which was built in 1872. Another theater of that time was Teatro Politeama, which remained popular well into the 20th century. The Politeama wasn’t just an opera house, but provided a venue for a lot of popular entertainment. Have a look at this Yiddish poster advertising a show at the Politeama in the 1930s.

Okay, I promised to keep these postings short, so I’m stopping now…need to come back another day and say something more about the Teatro de la Ópera.