by Terence Clarke, journalist, author and Alma del Tango board member
In one of the most famous disappearances in the history of Latin American music, Ada Falcón, the great Argentine tanguera, left show business. Her retirement was sudden, completely unexpected and extremely strange.
She had begun to appear on the streets of Buenos Aires in disguise, her head swathed in scarves, multiple shawls hanging about her shoulders, her lovely eyes hidden behind slab-like sunglasses. She stopped recording. There were reports in the newspapers about strange nighttime peregrinations, about her odd dress, and her raving. Eventually her mother realized the depth of Ada’s distress, and took her to Cordoba, Argentina, where Ada entered the Molinari Convent of Franciscan nuns.
There is a great deal of speculation about the end of her career, the entertainment life she had known almost since birth, and the decision to enter the contemplative life under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Most center upon her love for the orchestra leader Francisco Canaro, because Canaro had a wife.
Evidently Falcón had been very guilt-ridden about her affair with a married man yet overwhelmed by the love she felt for him. She pleaded with Canaro to divorce his wife so that she could marry him. Canaro agreed but did not actually go through with the divorce action. He kept Falcón on one arm and his wife on the other, for years. There were family reasons, Canaro said. The Church. The need to wait for a while to keep it respectable. Careers. Obligations.
Falcón waited, until the day Canaro finally admitted to her that he would never leave his wife under any circumstances.
Falcón went to the streets and wandered, swathed in craziness. Eventually, in desperation, sheltered by her mother, she entered the convent. Ada Falcón died in 2002, at ninety-six, in the convent in Cordoba. She seldom left the place, she never recorded another song, and apparently never recovered her heart.
Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the central character, will be published in January.