Navidad Nuestra - Ariel Ramirez (b.1921)

Navidad Nuestra (Our Nativity) is a Christmas tableau in six scenes. For his composition Ariel Ramírez (b. 1921) used Félix Luna’s poems, a setting of the Nativity in Argentinean homespun. The scenes are not set in Bethlehem. Instead they take place in the northern part of Argentina near La Rioja. The text is in Spanish, sprinkled with expressions from the native Indian people there who speak Guarani. Ramirez composed these pieces in the idiom of traditional Argentine musical traditions and dances. Many other native elements are sprinkled throughout.

So, the Virgin Mary is a Guaraní girl and the shepherds are gauchos of the Pampas, which makes this story not a "once upon a time" but a "here and now" of the people. It celebrates Christmas not as the drama of a single day but, in the Latin way, as a succession of scenes and feast days, from the Annunciation in March to the festival of the Virgin of the Candelaria in February . There are two important commonalities among the tableau’s movements: the musical theme of each reflects a distinctive regional dance intended to mirror the poem, and each relates a temporal or spiritual journey. The first scene is La Anunciacion (the Annunciation), sung in the style of a chamamé, in which the angel greets a village girl with astonishing news. In this delightfully homey setting, the angel chats in slang and reminds us how God moves in unexpected ways. The second scene, La Peregrinacion (The Pilgrimage), is set to a Pampean huella, and recounts Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey to their ancestral town. Theirs is the plea of the homeless everywhere. In the third scene, El Nacimiento (The Nativity), the infant Jesus leaves the womb and enters the world, bridging heaven and earth. The music is a sweet Catamarcan vidala with a soaring soprano solo. The tableau turns to the countryside in the fourth scene, Los Pastores (The Shepherds), where the shepherds are searching for the infant king. This is set to a pulsing Riojan chaya. In the fifth scene, Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings), Ramirez sets the journey of the Magi not to the loping rhythm of camels but to the infectious beat of the takirari, and these kings are not bringing gold, either. The scene recalls the "Little Christmas" festival on January 6, when children in many Latin countries receive presents. The infant Jesus receives native gifts of sweets and an alpaca poncho! In the sixth and final scene, La Huida (The Flight), the family flees to Egypt, evoking the Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28). Their terrified struggle against time and regime is symbolized by the relentlessly slow beat of the vidala tucumana and by the imagery, all too real for many Latin Americans today, of state soldiery.

Programme Note by David R. Lindquist

Page created 23 November, 2008 by Ian Downie