the opera Café at the municipal

Anna Boghiguian, A Myth, 1994


The libretto by Mário de Andrade set to music by Felipe Senna in a score conducted by Sérgio de Carvalho

The lack of publicity and the lightning speed of the five-day season made an event of the greatest brilliance almost clandestine: the staging of the opera Café at Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, part of the 1922 Modern Art Week Centenary celebrations. With a libretto by Mário de Andrade, no one has dared to do the feat since 1996, when the Santos Symphony Orchestra took it to the stage, with music by Köllreuter and direction by Fernando Peixoto.

The current event, sponsored by the Municipality of São Paulo's Secretary of Culture, brings together the Municipal Symphony Orchestra, the São Paulo Choir and the City Ballet, bringing together circus performers and popular singers, as well as contributions from the MST.

They offer us a new opera, authored by the well-known composer Felipe Senna, with Brechtian adaptation and scenic direction by Sérgio de Carvalho, from Companhia do Latão and with long experience on our stages. The music is transported to us: modern, contemporary and dissonant, passing by melodious facilities, consistent with the subject.

A grandiose show, handling large choral masses, in keeping with Mário de Andrade's desire: expressing the community and not highlighting isolated people, as is common in opera. By the way, not only in her, but also in dramaturgy in general, in cinema, in novels. The author wanted his opera to give voice to the dispossessed workers as a whole, and not to any individuals among them. The choral masses are echoed by the ballet dancers, on stage the whole time, participating in the action and giving the stage the synergy of great animation.

The focus of the narrative is the misery and hunger triggered by the coffee crisis following the stock market crash in 1929, the cause of the Great Depression. Coffee ran aground and massive unemployment hit farmers and dockers across the country, but especially in São Paulo, the homeland of coffee growing. It is in this framework that the opera takes place.

The narrative unfolds from the pier of the port of Santos, where coffee stopped shipping to rich countries, accumulating on the docks. Then there is the unemployed labor force on the coffee plantations in the interior, forced into an aimless exodus. A silly scene takes place in the Chamber of Deputies, making it clear that the big shots are there just to amuse themselves with what power gives them, without the slightest willingness to look out for the interests of the people. This, in a farce tone.

Advancing, the peasants expose their demands, until the apotheosis, which shows them in full revolt. Then comes its representative, duly updated for the time of the pandemic: a motoboy delivering an app, played by a black actor. That's right, he is a hero of our times (not forgetting health workers). The narrative also includes a small interpolation at the end, when the MST group, peasants of today like those of yesterday, occupies the stage.

Mário de Andrade did not just write the libretto. He also left a meticulous script full of indications, which even has the color of the costumes and movements on stage. Published for the first time in complete poems, the libretto came to constitute, such as the number of editions and variants, a delicate ecdotic problem. It was necessary to wait until 2004 for Flavia Camargo Toni, a musicologist at USP's Institute of Brazilian Studies (IEB), to receive an established and reliable text until XNUMX. Her thesis was entitled Café, an opera by Mário de Andrade: Study and annotated edition.

Mário de Andrade was a masterful musicologist and piano teacher at the Dramatic and Musical Conservatory, a sector in which his performance is less known than in literature. The IEB preserves its collection, which has been the subject of studies. Recently, the same researcher, with partnerships, provided the invaluable service of rescuing the music of the modernist nights at the Theatro Municipal in 1922. In new recordings, it yielded four CDs with Selo Sesc and a catalog with conferences from then and studies from now. The title is: Toda Semana: Music and Literature at the Modern Art Week. It is a historic opportunity, which has waited a century to come to light.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Senac\Gold over Blue).


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