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Festival Opera Tigre English Version Menu

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Interview with Pablo Mainetti and Jon Paul Laka

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On the musical adaptation of  Purcell's THE FAIRY QUEEN in the upcoming production for the FESTIVAL OPERA TIGRE (FOT).

Interview by Renzo Longobucco.

Pablo Mainetti photo (c) published by courtesy of the Festival Opera Tigre Jon Paul Laka photo (c) published by courtesy of the Festival Opera Tigre
Pablo Mainetti and Jon Paul Laka
photo published by courtesy of the Festival Opera Tigre
click to magnify

The upcoming Festival Opera Tigre presents a new production of Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen with texts from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. These performances face several challenges, from presenting the play outdoors on an island surrounded by canals of the Delta of Tigre, only accessible by river transport or dealing with a natural stage set in the very jungle of the island where the couples of lovers escape to mingle with the world of fairies and elves. The audience becomes another participant in the performance following the action through different scenarios where the consecutive scenes are presented, guided by an original instrumental ensemble performing Baroque music with instruments which are not very common in this repertoire: bandoneon, accordion and electric guitar. Pablo Mainetti and Jon Paul Laka have adapted the work for this ensemble together with the invaluable collaboration of Pedro Chalkho, a great virtuoso of the electric guitar. We gather today with them to talk about this adaptation of Purcell's music for the Festival Opera Tigre. Pablo Mainetti is without question one of the most outstanding artists playing the bandoneon in Argentina. His musical excellence embraces both his career as bandoneon player as his extensive work as composer and arranger of music for various instrumental formations. His catalogue includes original pieces of chamber music, opera and symphonic arrangements of works by other composers. The proof of its versatility lies in the number of projects of different styles in which he has been involved throughout the world. No need to say that tango music plays an important role in his life, performing with the best tango orchestras and ensembles, among them the Astor Piazzolla Foundation Quintet. But he keeps strong links with other musical styles like jazz and contemporary music, and as a soloist playing often Piazzolla's Concert for bandoneon and Orchestra with symphonic orchestras around the world. He has been on stage with a wide roster of artists ranging from the best singers of tango to Joan Manuel Serrat and Ute Lemper, playing in cities like New York, Leipzig, London, Madrid... His numerous recordings, among which we can find his own compositions, have been the subject of awards and distinctions including the nomination to the Grammy Awards. A breathtaking tour.

Henry Purcell (c) Robert White; source Sotheby's; from wikipedia - commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Purcell_portrait.jpg
Henry Purcell
Photo - Wikipedia / Click to magnify

Renzo Longobucco: Baroque music with bandoneon, accordion and guitar. The first question seems very clear, why?

Pablo Mainetti: The answer seems even clearer: why not? As an instrumentalist, Baroque music is part of the training for any student, and I have spent many hours of my life playing and studying for example the music of Bach, among other baroque composers. It is obvious that as a bandoneonist I do not play this music often in public and I keep this playing mostly for myself. But in the case of the bandoneon is due more to a question of tradition than adequacy from the artistic point of view. Music is music whatever the instrument playing, and I understand music styles in a very broad sense where any experimentation may be considered. No need to say that you may discuss the stylistic suitability and the artistic level of the result, as in any musical interpretation either Baroque or contemporary music or jazz, but I am convinced that this depends more on the interpreter than the possible limitations of the instrument itself. In the case of the bandoneon, which by the way shares many common features with the accordion, it allows implementing some of the characteristics required from keyboard instruments: precision in the attack of the sound, fast virtuoso passages with space for ornamented lines. But at the same time it has to be considered that the sound is continuously sustained by the air and we may play on the dynamics of the sound, so we may produce a crescendo or diminuendo on a single sustained note or chord as string and wind instruments may do. In fact, it shares some of the characteristics which made the organ one of the emblematic instruments of Baroque music.

At this time Jon Paul Laka joins our conversation. He studied accordion in Bilbao in one of the great schools of accordion of Spain, initiated by a visionary musician and virtuoso of the accordion: Josu Loroño. He taught accordion to his students requiring all the discipline and musical rigour he himself endured in his musical training as pianist or composer. In those days the accordion was not part of the instruments included in the official studies traditional conservatories of music offered, and Josu Loroño founded the Symphony Orchestra of Accordions of Bilbao. This orchestra has recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with an unquestionable prestige in its field. Jon Paul Laka played with them for nearly twenty-five years. He also worked for the last eight years as Artistic Director of the Opera of Bilbao ABAO in Spain, and currently he is in charge of the artistic direction of the Festival Opera Tigre, showing his strong links with operatic repertoire.

Jon Paul Laka: Bringing unusual instruments to this world of baroque music is a logical consequence of the search for new sounds and possibilities that composers of the time simply did not have. Many composers in those times created music for the instruments engaged for a given performance, so it was not necessarily a composer's firm decision to have an exclusive type of instruments playing the music. But the music itself created a demand for certain instruments and players, starting a tradition which in turn generates trained instrumentalists for that same tradition. Anyway we do not see the need to justify an instrumental option which is not intended as something exclusive and unique, since there is no need to choose one of the options against the others. In any case, exploring the catalogue of baroque music recordings, one may find some excellent versions of the Goldberg Variations and a long list of other works by Bach or Scarlatti's Sonatas with accordion. As Pablo said, it's a work of experimentation aiming at artistic excellence, as it always should be.

Nymphs photo (c) Teresa Grotowska published by courtesy Festival Opera Tigre
Nymphs photo (c) Teresa Grotowska published by courtesy Festival Opera Tigre
Photo (c) Teresa Grotowska
Click to magnify

Pablo Mainetti: I would say even more: purism, as a principle which follows and repeats the tradition blindly, may place the music itself in a cul-de-sac, in a reduced and sterile atmosphere devoid of oxygen weakening the music itself. In the end audiences would grow accustomed to a rigid tradition without space for fantasy and the initiative of the interpreter. If one examines it with some perspective, the assumptions about the ways and means of interpreting certain styles end up turning into certainties by the mere fact of repeating them. Certainly it is important to know what fits the tradition and we must study these principles and be fully aware of them, but just knowing that it is a tradition and not an untouchable totem. Questioning this tradition from the knowledge is the only thing that has made develop the music itself.

Jon Paul Laka: We should also mention that even the musical event in itself faces an audience so different from the audiences four hundred years ago. The audience today has already heard languages and unimaginable forms of music for the audience who listened to Purcell in his time, they have seen films, they have exposed their aesthetic appreciation to abstract painting, to jazz, to pop music... You cannot deny of all those influences when listening to this amazing music by Purcell. Not to mention the fact that attending an opera today is very different from what the public expected at other times. The tradition of listening to music sitting in the dark in a closed and silent environment is a habit that starts in the late XIX century. Therefore, the kind of Fitzcarraldo experience we offer to the public - outdoors in the middle of the jungle walking between scenarios following the consecutive scenes - the proposal of our instrumental ensemble has a coherence. In addition, in this most original experience it was important to have instruments which could move easily around the vegetation of the island, and it would have been difficult to do that with a harpsichord, cellos, or more delicate instruments so sensitive to the change of temperatures at night in the Delta of Tigre (laughs) and having the bandoneon seemed also like a unavoidable choice, considering we are in Argentina and Pablo was a luxury item available for the project!

Renzo Longobucco: From the technical point of view, how did you deal with the adaptation of the work?

Jon Paul Laka: First of all studying, studying, studying the score... and listening to the music incessantly until we knew it by heart. It was also very comforting to hear how different interpretations dealt with this music, in such different ways and always so convincing, reinforcing the idea that we could also dare to play with this music. It is striking to compare the number of musicians engaged in different recordings or the different style options. As one clear example, Purcell includes in this piece - as in so many of his works - a long scene with a drunk character, in this case a drunken poet, continuously interrupted by the fairies and the choir. The melodies of the drunk are catchy and very popular, surely the audience came to sing with him and laugh about the whole thing, since this kind of scene aimed always for a great popular success. There are recordings dealing with this scene in a very static and almost cold way while others go for a more unacademic and popular interpretation. Another example is the famous Lament sung by Titania, one the longest and most beautiful moments in this work. It seems like time is stopped for a while and the melody has a kind timeless quality so it could belong to different music styles, closely related to another great achievement by Purcell which is the death of Dido. The dramatic power of the vocal line and the intrinsic beauty of the music allow for any type of adaptation based on a deep respect for the essence of the music. We play this scene with the electric guitar instead of the obligato violin solo and accordion for the support of basso continuo. But the result seems to be equally beautiful. I would like to mention at this moment the beautiful and original treatment of this music by such great musician as Christina Pluhar. In her last recording, she plays this same piece with L'Arpeggiata together with some other pieces by Purcell,  a very innovative and beautiful recording full of inspiring ideas.

Pablo Mainetti: I totally agree with you, the most important thing is to guarantee a solid respect not necessarily for a tradition but for the essence of the music itself. I understand that even this so called aessence can be debatable, but we do it from a deep respect for this essence as we want to reach an audience which is not necessarily familiar with Baroque music. But it is important to say that we have worked reading from the original score and considering various alternatives in the distribution of the different voices. We did not impose rigid criteria about who takes which part and who takes the basso continuo. Therefore at some points it was necessary to transcribe and rewrite the score we would use in performance, as I myself did in some of the instrumental sections like the opening numbers where Purcell makes intensive use of counterpoint. What we achieved with this long instrumental introduction would have been enough to make me happy about my participation in this project.

Jon Paul Laka: The guitar also participates in this game of alternating roles. In some numbers it plays strictly as basso continuo, some other times exposes the melody or plays a crucial soloist role, like in The Lament by Titania which we mentioned before. The truth is that in this adaptation, where a constant dialogue and understanding is needed among musicians while we explore different options, it is a privilege to collaborate with such gifted colleagues. Once more a new chance to learn from musicians where complicity becomes a key factor for successful music making.

 Nymphs photo (c) Teresa Grotowska published by courtesy Festival Opera Tigre
Photo (c) Teresa Grotowska
Click to magnify

Renzo Longobucco: You have already offered a concert with most of the music in The Fairy Queen. Are you happy of the result? what did the singers feel and how did the audience react to your proposal?

Pablo Mainetti: The result was really great. We had an audience of more than four hundred people, very spontaneous and with few exceptions, I would say that many of them were listening to this music for the first time in their life. One of the measures of success for me, although it may seem a paradox, is the kind of attentive silence coming from the audience in some of the most intimate and intense moments during the concert. It was so great to see that no one was staring at the cell phone sending text messages (laughs), feel that silence which participates in the tension built by the silence in the music itself. Of course I do not complain either about the big applause we got at the end breaking the silence.

Jon Paul Laka: We must consider that all singers working with us have also a great experience in Baroque music, naturally with more orthodox instrumental ensembles. But right from the beginning there was no disagreement, and in no time we felt comfortable working altogether. From the first note we played together, it seemed that we had always done it like that. I think that can be attributed to the respect we share for the very essence of the music, so hard to define but easy to feel.

Pablo Mainetti: Of course as any artist in any genre, you always think that there are things to improve, changes which could improve a given passage... but that is a fundamental feeling to move forward as an artist. Satisfied with the work already done but considering where is that space where you may contribute something more valuable, where you may be more expressive and in the end how to improve the process of bringing out that emotion and share it with the audience. If we get that under the light of the moon in a starry night, I will consider myself more than satisfied.

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