In 1922, São Paulo was the stage for a cultural revolution. Artists, musicians and writers broke from the creative past, opening the doors to Modernism in Brazil in a movement that crystallised over three days of recitals, poetry readings, exhibitions and concerts. Its epicentre was the Theatro Municipal, and the event became known as the ‘Semana de Arte Moderna de ’22’.
This month, the same theatre commemorates the 90th anniversary of the ‘Week of Modern Art’ with a special programme of operas, recitals and a ballet. The pieces were hand-picked to move beyond a mere recreation of the original event, acting instead as a contemporary reflection on the meaning of those three days and their lasting impact.
The artistic director of the Theatro Municipal, Abel Rocha, says the events were selected to highlight the enduring importance of the Modernist movement. ‘We didn’t want [the programme] to be merely illustrative.’ He explains, ‘These are shows that refer back to the Semana. After all, what was modern 90 years ago isn’t modern anymore.'
Hence the decision to use works like the Camargo Guarnieri opera, Pedro Malazarte. The libretto by Modernist literature’s leading figure, Mário de Andrade, was only put to music years after the Semana, when Guarnieri followed Andrade’s instructions to create a Brazilian opera avoiding European blueprints.
For the Theatro Municipal’s 2012 staging, Pedro Malazarte will be preceded by the Vila Rica Suite, a ten-part film score from the late 1950s also written by Guarnieri, with Carlos Moreno conducting the Orquestra Municipal de São Paulo.
Another highlight is the opera Magdalena, written by Heitor Villa-Lobos for Broadway. The play will be performed in São Paulo for the first time in a two-act tragicomic opera portrays the struggle of Indians against their colonisers. Its music is also by the Orquestra Municipal de São Paulo, with Luís Gustavo Petri conducting.
To complete the programme, Caio Pagano interprets Claude Debussy, just as the pianist Guiomar Novaes did in 1922. The concert concludes with Jamil Maluf and the Orquestra Experimental de Repertório performing works by Lorenzo Fernandez, Villa-Lobos and Gnatalli.
This tribute to Brazil’s artistic watershed moment reimagines yesteryear’s avant-garde with the creative drive of the original innovators, and free from strict reverence. That’s probably how the Modernists would have wanted it.
The following performances are part of the Semana de Arte Moderna de '22 celebrations at the Theatro Municipal, Praça Ramos de Azevedo, no number (3397 0327, teatromunicipal.sp.gov.br). Admission R$10-$100.
Magdalena is on 15, 17, 19, 23, 25 February at 8pm (6pm Sundays)
Vila Rica Suite and Pedro Malazarte are on 16, 18, 24, 26 February at 8pm (6pm Sundays)
Caio Pagano plays on 25 February at 4pm
Orquestra Experimental de Repertório plays on 26 February at 11am