A play about the “king of tango” was staged in Vakhtangov

“Tango Between the Lines” – this is the name of the play, which was played in the art cafe of the Vakhtangov Theater. True, the word “strings” is not at all about calligraphy or spelling. Strok is the name of the composer who went down in the history of music as the “king of tango”. About him – a play by the playwright from Riga Alexei Shcherbakov. Directed by Natalia Kovaleva. From the premiere screening observer “MK”.

The choice of café space with tables is not accidental – Oskar Strok has performed in restaurants almost all his life – and in bourgeois Riga, where he lived before the war and after (already in Soviet), as well as in Paris and Berlin, where he left in search of a better life, where his music was revered, and he himself was called “the king of tango.” He worked as a pianist in cinemas, earned a living by playing at weddings, at receptions in wealthy houses, although he really was a king and was worthy of royal honors. “Ah, those black eyes! Who will love you ”- remember? But this: “It was an autumn day, and the leaves were quietly falling …” or “Tell me why?” He composed 44 tangos, languid, full of tenderness and longing, light sadness, and also foxtrots, songs. They were sung by Chaliapin, Plevitskaya, Petr Leshchenko. They sounded at all times, no matter how cruel, military, bloody they were. Because they reminded of another, happy life, which was and, perhaps, will return. No times have been without the music of Oscar Strok, which is confirmed by the installation of documentary footage of human grief and devastation of the Second World War on a small screen and the composer’s music, which is important – in live performance.

And here he is – a short, slightly stooped and fussy, insecure person. And no royalty. In general, he was poor, not titled, from a large Jewish family from the Vitebsk province. Eight children in the family of musician David Strok, Osya, who later took the name Oscar, is the youngest and most gifted, graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He enters a small stage with a suitcase – this eternal traveler in the world of sounds and in the world of people, who dreamed of dying for some reason on the train. Some kind of sad melody is whistling. As the performer of the role of the composer, Eldar Tramov, will tell me after the performance, it was through the whistle that another composer, Faustas Latenas, saw the life of his hero, who untimely passed away last year, but managed to leave a lot of wonderful theatrical music that now sounds in Vakhtangovsky’s performances. Including this slightly sad, as if in a swing, whistle to the melody composed by Latenas, draws the image of an ordinary / unusual person who, in general, whistled through his life. And no longer through their own fault.

However, we have before us not only a character from the ZhZL series, but also a portrait of the time, which retouched the portrait of Strok at his whim, twirling it like an autumn leaf in the wind. This is also a portrait of an artist who was kissed by God, who received from the Almighty the gift of hearing music and infecting others with it.

Oscar Strok – Eldar Tramov.







In her performance, director Natalya Kovaleva (with the young generation of Vakhtangovites, she has already released two powerful works – “Our Class” and “The Enchanted Wanderer”) avoided the most common mistake – illustrativeness, when songs are played out theatrically. Tango String (and there will be 16 of them in the play) for the most part live as if parallel to the narration, then setting the mood, atmosphere, and then at some point they begin to integrate into the lives of the heroes, become the language of their communication. To the right of the tiny stage is a small orchestra of six musicians, and the music and the actions of the artists capture the entire space in an amazing way, creating the illusion of a big performance. No wonder: the king of tango has taken over the whole world long ago.

The role of the composer Strok is played by a young actor Eldar Tramov. The appointment for the title role is more than successful – Tramov is musical, artistic, sings beautifully, the school of performance is his strong point. And where, in rare moments, Strok is the lucky and happy king of tango, these qualities come in handy – he sings, leads his partners to tango. But all the same, all the same … His life, whatever one may say, is difficult, and before us is a man not the happiest, broken by circumstances, but still trying to preserve the dignity of the artist. Strok, as a singer of decadence and unprincipled songs, was not edited with Soviet reality and was in the pen for more than 30 years. In 1948 he was expelled from the Latvian Composers’ Union and returned only 60 years later (!!!) – and life passed. He did not record new records, God knows how he lived and for what. “Yes, I get the copyright,” he says when he is at the reception of the USSR Minister of Culture Yekaterina Furtseva. – Yes, I live like that.

The minister performed by Anna Antonova turned out to be bright and caricatured. And, on the contrary, completely different images of the women of Strok are performed by Anna Dubrovskaya (wife Louise) and Daria Shcherbakova (Leni Libman’s mistress). Louise is soft, gentle, quietly suffering from her husband’s betrayal, and the capricious fury of Leni Liebman, and between them the apologetic, slightly stammering, but charming Strok, who, like a true intellectual, is indecisive in his relations with women and prefers a combination of existence between – between women, countries. Better to maneuver clumsily than to fight, breaking someone’s fate. Maybe that’s why his tangos are not as passionate as, say, those of Piazzolla and other Latinos – Strok has more tenderness. The music that Vakhtangovsky’s orchestra performs beautifully is indeed full of the desired tenderness and sweet longing, in contrast to life, where there is so little sensuality and sensitivity.

Published in the newspaper “Moskovsky Komsomolets” No. 28484 of February 24, 2021

Newspaper headline:
Life between the lines

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