Opera and Society in Early-Twentieth-Century Argentina: Felipe Boero's El matrero

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Premiering at the twilight of the gauchesco era and the dawn of Argentine musical Modernism, El matrero (1929) by Felipe Boero (1884-1958) remains underexplored in terms of its social milieu and artistic heritage. Instantly hailed as a masterpiece, the work retains a place in the local repertory, though it has never been performed internationally. The opera draws on myths of the gaucho and takes further inspiration from the energized intellectual environment surrounding the one-hundred-year anniversary of Argentine Independence. The most influential writers of the Centenary were Leopoldo Lugones (1874-1938), Ricardo Rojas (1882-1957), and Manuel Gálvez (1882-1962). Their times were marked ... continued below

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Sauceda, Jonathan August 2016.

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  • Sauceda, Jonathan

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Premiering at the twilight of the gauchesco era and the dawn of Argentine musical Modernism, El matrero (1929) by Felipe Boero (1884-1958) remains underexplored in terms of its social milieu and artistic heritage. Instantly hailed as a masterpiece, the work retains a place in the local repertory, though it has never been performed internationally. The opera draws on myths of the gaucho and takes further inspiration from the energized intellectual environment surrounding the one-hundred-year anniversary of Argentine Independence. The most influential writers of the Centenary were Leopoldo Lugones (1874-1938), Ricardo Rojas (1882-1957), and Manuel Gálvez (1882-1962). Their times were marked by contradictions: xenophobia and the desire for foreign approbation; pride in an imaginary, "barbaric" yet noble ideal wiped out by the "civilizing" ambitions of revered nineteenth-century leaders. Krausism, a system of ideas following the teachings of Karl Friedrich Krause (1781-1832), had an impact on the period as exhibited in the political philosophy of Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852-1933), who served as president from 1916 to 1922 and 1928 to 1930 when he was deposed by a right-wing coup d'état.

Uncritical applications of traditional understandings of nationalism have had a negative impact on Latin American music scholarship. A distillation of scholarly conceptions of Argentine nacionalismo, which address the meaning of the word as it was used in the early twentieth century, combined with an examination of major works of important literary figures of the Centenary provide a firmer ground for discussion. Gálvez paints a conservative portrait of a refined, well-traveled dilettante who finds true enlightenment only in his own rural, Argentine culture. A liberal, Rojas understands nationalism as devotion to the development of national institutions and local art. Lugones argues the foundation of national art should be the gaucho, and articulates the hierarchical sociabilities it should articulate.

Boero adopts elements of Krausism and the nationalistic system of values advanced by the Centenary writers within an Occidentalist framework. Occidentalism describes cosmopolitan initiatives to incorporate the ideals of the West as structural to Argentine identity. It shares the liberal outlook of the central government that valued international openness and European and Anglo-American affinity. Boero wrote to satisfy the responsibilities of the various occupations he held as opera composer, pedagogue, and art musician, but was always dedicated to the strengthening of national institutions and development of what he perceived to be a native art. His pieces evince the Occidental ideal in their adoption of Impressionistic, Puccinian, and folkloric elements in varied ways, sometimes in individual pieces in isolation, other times all within the same work. The use of each of these styles is done in a thoroughly Eurocentric manner as even the "gaucho" elements are utilized according to traditional art music conventions. Boero demonstrates his mastery of a variety of techniques throughout his oeuvre and explores each of them in his magnum opus.

The play El matrero, written by the contemporary Uruguayan playwright, Yamandú Rodríguez, draws on themes explored and celebrated by the Centenary writers and resonates with certain Krausist values. The libretto diverges from the play in a few significant ways that suggest a more conservative political outlook. More than simply a story told in the popular gauchesco style, the work is a kind of origin story with supposedly authentic depictions of rural life that present a model for contemporary sociabilities informed by the Krausism and liberalism of the era. Musical analysis of the opera confirms affinities with verismo and Impressionism, but also reveals a unique stamp, not only in the use of gauchesco topoi, but the harmonic language and interplay of styles. These styles are not blended into a single, cohesive unity but arise at key points within the heterogeneous work. A critical analysis allows the musical styles to be considered to articulate a social hierarchy marked by Krausist organicism already hinted at in the text. The various character groups of the opera have distinct voices that reveal separate classes. In line with current Argentine thought rooted in the nineteenth century and the Centenary, and due to the work's status as an origin story, the relationships between the groups may be seen to represent a model for contemporary society with the elite successfully managing the affairs of their underlings.

The music helps articulate these relationships with moments of diegetic gauchesco music-making being relegated to the voices and bodies of the lower classes and the representatives of the upper class speaking with a mixture of art music styles and a sublimated folkloric style. The combined study of text and music reveals an Occidentalist perspective with the native Argentine elements subordinated to the European. In spite of their lower sociopolitical position, the folk are not despised but given a coherent musical language with which to express themselves, and the higher characters are musically united to their gaucho compatriots. The combination of musical styles creates an engaging, complex tapestry more than worthy of considered study and appreciation.

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  • August 2016

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  • Aug. 31, 2016, 10:41 p.m.

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  • Oct. 25, 2016, 10:08 a.m.

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Sauceda, Jonathan. Opera and Society in Early-Twentieth-Century Argentina: Felipe Boero's El matrero, dissertation, August 2016; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc862860/: accessed October 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .