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Date:    Tue, 10 Feb 1998 10:09:50 -0800
From:    TangoMan
Subject: The making of Malena

A recent posting by Tom Stermitz brought up the subject of Tango Malena, a
classic piece of poetry by Homero Manzi and one of the few tangos which
seems to have been written with a woman's perspective in mind.
Azucena Maizani was the first to sing it and record it in 1942. Many thought
that she had been Manzi's inspiring muse but the story goes something like this:

Elena Tortolero, the daughter of natives from Andalucia in Spain, was born
in Argentina but grew up in Brazil because her father was named to head the
Spanish diplomatic office in Porto Alegre. She acquired a highly polished
bilingual education in Spanish and Portuguese and she also developed a
natural inclination for singing internationally popular songs. She became a
professional singer, known as Helena de Toledo.
Porto Alegre, being the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, shares many regional
melodies that are close to the Argentine tunes heard on the other side of
the border. So it wasn't strange that Helena introduced the Tango to her
Homero Manzi (1907-1951), a fine Argentine poet who seldom left the
boundaries of the Argentine soil, had visited several Latin American
countries to attend conferences and give lectures on one of his favorite
subjects: nationalism and the rights of authors and composers to protect
their intellectual work. Making a stop in Brazil, Manzi happened to be one
night in the audience of a night club where he heard Helena sing.
Far from Buenos Aires, Manzi was inspired by the emotional discovery of the
music of Buenos Aires in a foreign environment. The unusual physical and
spiritual authenticity of Helena's delivery touched him. On the trip back to
Buenos Aires he jotted down the verses describing Helena, whom he had
renamed Malena.
Once Homero Manzi completed the literary structure of the song, he delivered
it to Lucio Demare, who tagged a catchy tune to it and turned over to Anibal
Troilo. Pichuco premiered it during the 1942 carnaval season, with the voice
of Fiorentino.
Helena de Toledo moved from Brazil to Cuba. There she met singer Genaro
Salinas They fell in love and they got married. Sharing a love for life and
art, they traveled together. It is in Mexico where Helena first hears "her
Tango" and finds out about the circumstances that provoked its creation. The
legend says that, feeling overwhelmed by the image cast from the verses,
Helena decided to give up singing.
So "Malena" became Elena Tortolero de Salinas. Eventually she and her
husband returned to Buenos Aires where they set up residence. Genaro
continued touring Latin America, while she began to establish herself as an
artistic agent.
In 1957 while on tour, Genaro tragically died in Caracas, Venezuela. Two
years later on a business trip to the Republic Oriental of Uruguay, Elena
passed away. Close friends affirm that she never laid claims to being the
Malena of the Tango. She was a woman that Buenos Aires got to know as a
common human being, with a name and surname alien to the simple name that
poet Homero Manzi gave her to transform her, in a moment of inspiration,
into a melodic princess on peoples' lips. People never knew nor will ever
know how she sang.


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Garrit Fleischmann Feb.97
Email: kontakt(at)