Thursday, 4 March 2010


July 1917: Caruso performed in the new Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the vast and beautiful opera house opened just nine years earlier to replace a 50 year-old building.

Gardel had his first big success with Mi noche triste that same year, a hit throughout Latin America, which sold a massive 10,000 copies. He also appeared in his first (silent!) film Flor de Durazno, 'Peach Blossom'. It is said that Caruso and Gardel met: if they did they must have sung together, but sadly there's no recording of the event. Four years later Caruso was dead, aged 48.

Also in 1917, prompted by his friends, an 18-year old Julio de Caro went on stage during a tango performance at the Palais de Glace, borrowed an instrument from one of Firpo's violinists, and was given a standing ovation for his performance. Eduardo Arolas, who led another prominent tango orquesta, offered him a permanent place.

Julio and his brother Francisco, an excellent pianist, had been frequenting tango performances for several years, despite the anger of their father, who had left his post as director of the Conservatory in La Scala, Milano, to emigrate to Buenos Aires, and who disdained popular music. So Julio had to resort to stealth to join Arolas' orchestra, for which he wrote his first tango, Mon beguin. Fortunately, perhaps, later that same year his father threw him out of the house. His brother joined him, and they went on the road with the Arolas orchestra in Argentina and Uruguay. After a US tour with Fresedo, Julio established a sextet with his brother in 1923, with Pedro Laurenz and Pedro Maffia on bandoneons. With this sextet he brought a lyrical sensitivity to tango, and musical sophistication, while retaining the rhythmic intensity. He also collaged whistling, strange groaning, meaningless (I believe) voices and laughter into tango, which still seems extraordinary. I read somewhere that he was a sickly child: I can imagine these were the sounds that represented the outside world to the house-bound child. His instrument was a Stroh violin, a sort of Dizzy Gillespie violin with a horn to project the sound.

The orquesta was invited to France in 1931, where they enjoyed success and high society, performing for the Rothschilds' galas and others. Julio was music director for Las luces de Buenos Aires, starring Gardel, and shot in the Paramount Studios in France. (Gardel had made 11 films in 1930.) Their success continued back in Buenos Aires, where the orquesta was invited to appear at the Teatro Colón in 1935. Gardel died in June that year.

In 1936, the de Caro orquesta presented Evolution of the Tango at the Teatro Opera on Corrientes, which traced tango from the 1880s. It must have been a tango concert, rather than a dance. A surprise visit by the brothers' aging parents to one of these performances led to a family reconciliation.

Julio had the same birthday (in different years) as Gardel, December 11, which is now National Tango Day. He died in 1980. Here he is, interviewed late in life, with his violin and some archival footage.

(Some of this is from Wikepedia: I don't know how accurate it is but I like the story. Someone should make a film of it.) (P.S. Oops, no romantic interest. That won't do at all.)

Image of Teatro Colón thanks to Kakashi. Video thanks to HAranguiz.

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