sábado, octubre 21, 2006

“Ernani” and “Carmen” start seasons of private companies

As you know, apart from the Colón’s official opera season we inhabitants of the City of Buenos Aires can also enjoy opera by private companies. The two principal ones have started their seasons at the Avenida. Buenos Aires Lírica has given us one of the two best Verdis of his initial years: “Ernani” (the other is “Macbeth”, though one should bear in mind that we hear it in a much later revision). Juventus Lyrica opted instead for a hoary masterpiece: Bizet’s “Carmen”. When Victor Hugo’s “Hernani” was premiered in 1830 there was a scandal, and it was considered a Romantic manifesto. As adapted by Francesco Piave’s libretto, the “bandito” (i.e., exiled by bann) Ernani is a dissident aristocrat whose father was killed by no less than the man who would become the Emperor Charles V. The plot hinges on both a political conspiracy and a triple contest for Elvira’s love. The plotters want to avoid the assumption of Charles as Emperor and are foiled when caught in the crypt of the Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) cathedral. Not only Ernani but Charles and Don Ruy Gómez de Silva (old Spanish nobleman) pretend Elvira’s charms, but she has eyes only for the bandit. Honoring sacrosanct hospitality mores, Silva saves Ernani from Charles’ wrath in exchange for a pledge: that Ernani should die if he’d ever hear Silva’s horn; when Ernani is set to marry Elvira the horn duly sounds and he commits suicide. This is a very Spanish Romantic plot . It certainly stimulated Verdi’s imagination and he has provided inspired, melodious music of great brio, almost but not quite as good as “Il Trovatore”. The Third Act, however, is a Verdian marvel, as Charles forgives the plotters and forgoes his claims on Elvira with some of his loveliest tunes and splendid buildups of tension. Whilst the Fourth is at first apparently superficial, it acquires dramatic density from the moment the horn is heard. Verdi’s “Ernani” was premiered in 1844 after troubles with the Austrian censure. In our city it was the first opera by this composer to be heard (July 1849) and it remained in the repertoire throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Then it faded out until the triumphant Colón revival of 1964 with Margherita Roberti, Flaviano Labó, Cornell MacNeil and Jerome Hines, conductor Fernando Previtali. Silence prevailed until 2001 when a good local double cast offered it at the Roma (Avellaneda). There are excellent videos with respectively Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti in the lead role and including such artists as Mirella Freni or Nicolai Ghiaurov or conductor Riccardo Muti. A final private note: I had the privilege of attending at the Old Met in 1956 a revival with Mario Del Monaco, Zinka Milanov, Leonard Warren and Cesare Siepi, conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. Buenos Aires Lírica did an honest, competent job, but except the protagonist (Gustavo López Manzitti) the other singers lacked the element of urgency and vitality that makes “Ernani” so dynamic. The tenor was arguably even too perfervid, but this was surely a mistake in the right direction. Russian soprano Svetlana Volosenko wasn’t skillful enough in the difficult ornaments of her aria “Ernani, involami”, but grew into the role and was finally satisfactory. Omar Carrión knew his Don Carlo since he intervened in the 2001 Roma performances and he certainly does it nobly; however, he had a cold (it was publicly announced) and so sang at half strength throughout. The sonorous voice of Chilean bass Homero Pérez-Miranda was heard to advantage as Silva, though he wasn’t particularly expressive. In the minor roles Mariela Schemper and Walter Schwarz were quite good, but Martín Lira was poor. Carlos Vieu has proved to be a stalwart Verdian but I found him rather undervitalized on this occasion. Juan Casasbellas got some enthusiasm and accuracy from the chorus. I preferred Marcelo Perusso’s work as producer rather than stage designer; e.g., the crypt at Aachen was quite nondescript, though the singer actors were reasonably well handled. Nice costumes from Perusso and Mabel Falcone and adequate lighting from Marcelo Conde. Juventus’ “Carmen” seemed to me unnecessary; the work has been abusively offered in recent years, even by Juventus. True, the cast was better than in this company’s last revival and there was some pleasure to be had in the terse singing of Daniela Tabernig (Micaela) and in the intensity of María Luján Mirabelli in the title role (better in the initial two acts). In fact there were three casts in only four performances; I attended the first cast. Norberto Fernández isn’t comfortable in French parts, his command of the language is very poor and his vocal line sounds Puccinian in a role such as Don Jose. Sebastián Angulegui was a dull Escamillo. The fresh young voice of Laura Polverini (Frasquita) was a plus; Florencia Machado (Mercedes) had some difficulties. A fine Zúniga from the Uruguayan Marcelo Otegui and an agreeable Morales from Fernando Grassi. Santiago Burgi (Remendado) and (Gustavo Zahnstecher) were average . Susana Frangi conducted in a very foursquare fashion members of the Colón Orchestra doing a routine job. I preferred the choral work under Miguel Pesce. The production by Ana D’Anna was cluttered and arbitrary, with few moments of well-staged theatre. Her stage designs had the same faults, but I mostly enjoyed the clothing imagined by María Jaunarena. 04/05/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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