One September night in 1984, the legendary Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris hosted an exceptional concert by the Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla and the Italian singer Milva. Almost 30 years later, that historical event is enjoying a revival under the guiding voice of Ute Lemper, the versatile performer known for her roles in theater, musicals, film and song.
After initiating a world tour in Hong Kong, the show now comes to Europe with an unusual repertoire in which the German chanteuse takes on tangos sung with a Buenos Aires accent. After stops in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy, Lost Tango can be seen in Pamplona on December 16 and Barcelona on January 18.
"I met Piazzolla [who died in 1992] in the 1980s because we had the same agent in Paris," said Lemper before her only performance in Switzerland. "I remember our first encounter quite well. He was very nice to me, but I felt so full of respect that I could barely speak. We thought of doing something together, but I was too young. I was not ready to delve deep into his music, which has such a strong cultural component. And so, the dreamed-of collaboration never took place."
But decades later, a British producer made it possible for the artist from Münster to join forces with a group of musicians that include some of the original members of Piazzolla's band, such as the violinist Fernando Suárez Paz. Another leading presence is that of the composer's grandson, Daniel "Pipi" Piazzolla, on drums.
Lemper, who won the 1998 Olivier Award for her performance in the London production of Chicago, said that she feels right at home in Buenos Aires, a city she has returned to time and again over the last 15 years.
"Every time I go, I learn something new about tango and its spirit. I love the people and its cafés. Really, I feel that my public is in Buenos Aires and I have made Argentina my own." Then again, of Barcelona she says that "I have a very special love relationship with it; it's a city that I adore." But for all that, Lemper admits that even when singing tango, she always carries Berlin in her heart, and that spirit shows up in her performance.
The two-hour show revisits classics by the author of Libertango, such as Balada para mi muerte (Ballad for my death) or Los Pájaros Perdidos (Lost birds). But there are also other, less well-known compositions such as Muralla de China (Wall of China) and even a curious tango sung in Portuguese, called As Ilhas (The islands).
Lost Tango with the Piazzolla Sextet from Buenos Aires. December 16 in Pamplona and January 18 at Palau de la Música, Barcelona.