Telling Stories Through Tango

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When vocalist Suzanne Klock got on stage at the Presser Recital Hall to perform Marcin Bela’s La hoguera donde arde una, the setting seemed all wrong.  The blue curtained backdrop and strong, overhead lighting felt more likely to belong to a children’s piano recital than an evening of experimental tango music. 

Wearing a cap-sleeved dress of black lace, Klock stepped in front of a massive grand piano, and began a short acapella opening number.  Her personality bubbled over as she greeted the audience and read the open-ended poetry of Argentinean writer Julio Cortazar—a piece that served as the inspiration for the musical performance that followed. Feeling every pause and turn of emotion, Klock read the poem as if it were a part of her.  Bonnie Wagner sat down at the piano to provide the accompaniment to the first selection, and as Klock let out a stream of beautifully crafted runs in a sultry Spanish tongue, the venue seemed to transform into a smoky cabaret.  Suddenly, the ordinary recital hall felt more like a dimly-lit jazz house.  It became easy to imagine a single spotlight and couples clinging to each other in dark corners.  The music overwhelmed.  It was dissonant, eerie, sexy and theatric, filled with the melodrama that one has come to expect from a tango piece.  

Despite a few shrill-sounding high notes, Klock’s voice was controlled and crisp.  Her vocal range danced up and down the scales as she successfully conveyed emotions of sadness and longing.  She appeared encapsulated in her own world.  Once in a while she broke from her rigid position and swayed from side to side and smiled to herself in a secretive way—as if she were sharing an inside joke with some phantom lover.  At times the piece was animalistic and raw.  Wagner’s firm strike on the keys rolled underneath angry and desperate vocals.  At other instances, Klock demonstrated a constrained timidity—a tender touch that delicately crafted notes into a common language.  Although the words may not have been comprehensible to non-Spanish speaking individuals, the meaning of each part was effortlessly conveyed. 

The rest of the evening was filled with a strange, but alluring mix of poetry and music.  Klock seemed to relax as the set went on.  She covered three songs by Tori Amos and filled the space with comedic storytelling mixed with cabaret-style songs done in both English and Spanish.  While reading poems about charming crazy men and white bicycles, Klock demonstrated her abilities as a multi-talented performer.  She embodied each story and each persona, gesturing dramatically and hamming it up.  But no matter how far she strayed from the seriousness of the main event, her voice remained skillfully on point.  At the end of the evening Klock and Wagner were greeted with a standing ovation an the audience who seemed genuinely thankful to have taken in the assorted arrangement.