Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sex and violence, mystery and libraries


With his Quebec City-based trio Tango Boréal Denis Plante has brought authentic tango, learned at the source in Buenos Aires, to the Great White North. His marvellous new opéra-tango is called La Bibliothèque Interdite (The Forbidden Library). It's based on the poetry, stories and life of Jorge Luis Borges, as well as the poetic tango lyrics of Enrique Santos Discépolo and Roberto Arlt.

The connection between Borges and libraries is one that runs through his whole adult life, from his early experience working in a suburban Buenos Aires public library branch to his ascension as the Director of Argentina's National Library. Borges is for me, and for many librarians like me, the modern version of St. Jerome, a patron saint of libraries and librarians. Themes of total libraries and human libraries and infinite libraries run through his writings, along with his stock company of tigers and minotaurs, mirrors and mazes, and tango. For Borges the tango was both an expression of national character and the mystery, sex and violence he loved in ancient epics and sagas, detective stories and films noirs. "The sexual nature of the tango has often been noted," Borges writes in his 1955 essay A History of the Tango, "but not so its violence."

Borges' manuscript for La Biblioteca Total, 1931 
Plante takes this heady mixture and distills it down to a one hour, one-act opera set in Buenos Aires in 1940 that's musically and dramatically vivid and atmospheric. Plante's story is of a poet working as a concierge in a mysterious library who is abducted by a character from one of his own seditious tangos. Besides Borges, this clever tale is in the tradition of both Latin American magic realists as well as French and Italian experimental writers such as Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino. The music is, of course, well in hand, with Plante's bandonéon, the guitar and charango of David Jacques and Ian Simpson's bass. The other key to its success is the singer, actor and activist Sébastien Ricard, whose performance in the lead role here is quite stunning. This is so much more than a mere parody of Carlos Gardel, but an authentic re-creation of the classic genre in a modern, global context. The anti-Fascist message in the work is much more than mere history, but has a chilling relevance in the world of today, sadly including even something as close to home as the massacre in Quebec City's Sainte-Foy neighborhood on January 29, 2017.

This CD will be released on April 7, 2017. At the same time, from April 5 to 12, La Bibliothèque Interdite will be performed by the Théâtre de Quat’Sous in Montreal. Here's a preview of that production:

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