Aníbal Cetrangolo: “The opera for us is a spy, a signal to study the contact of cultures”

Interview with the Doctor in Musicology Aníbal Enrique Cetrangolo


About Aníbal Enrique Cetrangolo

Doctor in Musicology from the University of Valladolid with thesis Opera and identity in the migration meeting. The Italian melodrama in Argentina between 1880 and 1920. 

Since 1974 it has been dedicated to the research and dissemination of the American colonial repertoire. He founded the first such group in Europe, the Albalonga ensemble, with which he presented and recorded numerous works at the first contemporary audition. He also directed numerous operas and oratories of the initial period of the genre such as the Euridice of Jacopo Peri, Daphne of Marco da Gagliano, the Rappresentazione di Anima e Corpo de Emilio de’Cavalieri, La Liberazione di Ruggiero nel Isola d’Alcina de Francesca Caccini, Il Palazzo Incantato di Atlante by Luigi Rossi. His research on Giacomo Facco was published in four volumes and he has recorded operas of that composer in world premiere.

He teaches at the Conservatory of Castelfranco Veneto and the University of Venice and collaborates with the Grove’s Dictionnary, the Utet and the Dictionary of Latin American Music. In 1999 he was awarded the Diploma of Merit of the Konex Foundation for his research activity.

He directs the Istituto per lo studio della Musica Latinoamericana (IMLA) and coordinates the Study Group RIIA, Italo Ibero-American Relations, the musical theater of the IMS.


Your research on opera in Latin America addresses issues such as migration and culture. How do migration, Latin culture and opera relate?

From the Institute we wanted our object of study had to do with the relationship between music and the social. As this group was made up of a Latin American and European group, it turned out that we thought about what would be the ideal object to be able to study through social music, after much debate we realized that opera was the object most permeated by the social, that is, when a 5th Beethoven Symphony is played in Moscow, in Boston or in Santiago, Chile, I am sure that the notes are the same. When La Traviata is not being done, there are arias that are left over, taken out, there are highs that are invented, etc., that means that the place affects a lot. 

Opera for us, in addition to a musical object, is a spy, a signal to study the contact of cultures. In our countries in the Río de La Plata, in Argentina and in Uruguay, as you know, this immigration has a strongly Italian connotation. Italy is the country of opera, so it was a fairly normal thing. 

Between 1880 and 1920 Argentina, Uruguay and also Brazil receive millions of Italians, that means that this produces a crisis situation. 


Tell us about the encounter between two cultures, the residents and those who came to interpret the operas. What reactions arose? 

In the nineteenth century it is considered that there is a main musical object, and that is the opera. When Rossini arrives in Vienna – it seems strange to us that it is so – but Rossini was more important than Beethoven, and when Stendar makes Rossini’s life he says that there is only one person so famous that Napoleon in the whole world, from Calcutta to Americas, that person is Rossini. 

In the nineteenth century world, the admiration for Italian opera is central, our Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento during his exile in Chile he commented on the number of Chileans who had been baptized with names of heroines or heroes of the opera. When the great Italian immigration arrives, let’s say that these Italians are also associated with that heritage, but on the other hand the millions that arrive are peasants, proletarians, illiterates who are not the personification of Bellini or Donizetti, and what happens at a certain moment The coachman who takes the money person to the theater knows more about opera than he does; then obviously a cut occurs, the Italian opera in Buenos Aires or in Montevideo can no longer be the object of distinction. 

As a new cultural model is invented, it is passed to Massenet’s refined and exotic art or to Wagner’s operas. That is, what is most rare in cities, is what is taken as an object of prestige. This is combined with a very strong political situation because the aristocracy, the oligarchy sees in the Italians of Argentina, Uruguay and also Brazil, as those responsible for carrying out the ideas of unions, organization of workers, and also of anarchists; So it begins to be created with the rejection of Italian opera, the rejection of the Italian, as a dangerous character and seeking social claims. 


Head the Istituto per lo studio della Musica Latinoamericana, tell us about its history, its objectives and its mission with the opera of the region.

In 1980 a very important congress was held in Rome, at the Italolatinoamerican Institute and was formed by the ambassadors of all the countries of America before the Italian government. I had a lot of economic power and organized this great congress, the “Latin American Baroque,” where there were many Latin and European scholars, who represented us were architects, art or literature historians. 

There were only five of us who presented an instance of musical research there. Among them was one of the precursors of musicology in Latin America Francisco Curt Lange, very important to us; there was a young man who was still studying for his doctorate in England that was Egberto Bermúdez Cujar, and I was there; the other two papers were from Argentines who sent their presentations in writing. 

We realized that in Europe, musicology was the Cinderella of the situation, and that is why with Langue we have created an Institute to function as a bridgehead for our interests, because in reality when we were going to Latin American archives and we found names of unknown characters like musicians or composers of Italian surname nobody knew who they were, so it was necessary for someone to study that in Italy. Robert Stinson expressly asked me to take care of these Italians, and that is how I worked on Ignazio Gerusalemme, Giacomo Facco and others. 

I have to say that at the founding moment of the Institute, who has been a dearest and active friend of these initiatives was Samuel Claro Valdés Samuel.


As a Latin American opera researcher, what do you think characterizes it and what is the value of the creation and representation of operas in Spanish?

The theme of operas in Spanish is very particular. I have to say first of all that there is no reason why Spanish is not an important textual vehicle for opera, Spanish works well. A significant thing happens, when operas are composed in Latin America, these even when they try to have a national character, the Argentine opera, the Chilean opera, the Mexican opera, until well into the twentieth century they are still written in Italian. The reason why an intellectual group tries to write national operas is because it feels that opera is a cultural object of such value and importance, that opera contributes to building the nation. Dvorak says he writes operas because he considers it a way to build his nation. The interesting thing is that these composers write operas that are in their national language, but why do Mexicans, Argentines, Brazilians write operas in Italian? In the case of Latin Americans, I believe that, if the intention is to help the formation of the national being, the Castilian does not differentiate us from the Argentines from the Chileans, or from the Bolivians of the Uruguayans, it has no national distinctive value, or Whether it is the same to write in Spanish as in Italian. 

We in Argentina began to write operas in Spanish only around 1917, and they did not have a great diffusion. 


For years you have been dedicated to the dissemination of the American colonial repertoire, why this particular period? Do you have a favorite title?

Many years ago I dedicated myself to the practice and performance of ancient music, we founded the first center of ancient music in Buenos Aires around 1973. It occurred to us that it was interesting to rescue a local heritage, and that’s how I started to take care of the colonial baroque, with My group called Cantoria del Buen Aire recorded one of the first LP (long play) with that kind of repertoire. 

For me it was the way of associating research with musical practice, since 1992 that with the IMLA we are dedicated to a more recent research period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. In practice, when I direct or when I execute, I am interested mainly in colonial material, and in Europe with the group that I have formed there I have recorded about 15 compacts with music of this type.

We have found an opera, one of the first of Italian style with text in Spanish that is Love is your dimension and that we have recorded it, after finding your manuscript in Portugal. 

I have to say about this that the opera and Latin America, this is a personal opinion but I am very convinced of what I am saying, but I do not think that the first opera in Latin America was the purple of the rose, precisely because I do not consider it an opera, because a fundamental thing for people who write opera is the recitative, this is what differentiates the opera from a musical theater play. And an essential thing in the opera, and this from the beginning of the opera, is to avoid the estrophic, because while one sings with the same music different text, the relationship between music and text is being totally devalued. The purple of the rose is a derivative of the antioperistic genres such as singspiel, zarzuela or ballad opera, it is not an opera. 

I think the first opera composed in Latin America is the one written in Mexico with music by Manuel de Sumalla La Parténope.