sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea”: bad guys win

It is an established fact by now that the Claudio Monteverdi trilogy of extant operas are considered repertoire in Europe. He wasn’t the first in writing operas (the privilege corresponds to Jacopo Peri and his “Euridice” in 1600; his 1597 “Dafne” is almost completely lost) bu certainly his “La favola d’Orfeo” (1607) was the opera in which most of the characteristics of the genre were firmly implanted. Of the 1608 “Arianna” only the famous Lament was preserved. And then, a musical mishap of major proportions occurs: his following ten operas between 1608 and 1640 are lost. By the time he wrote “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” in 1641 he was 74; this we still have. And we have the 1642 “L’incoronazione di Poppea”. “Poppea” has a splendid text by Giovanni Busenello, pithy and sarcastic in its tone, highly wrought in its language, as harsh an indictment of unlimited power (Nero’s) and of female seduction as we have: politics moved by sex and instinct , Seneca’s wonderful counsel cancelled by commanded suicide. After the Venice premiere there were only copies of the Monteverdi manuscript: one, with additions in Monteverdi’s hand, is at the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice; another comes from the Naples revival of 1651 and is also a copy, this time at the Conservatory San Pietro a Maiella at that city. After his century Monteverdi was all but ignored until the beginnings of the twentieth century, when Vincent d’Indy edited “Poppea” in 1904 and “Orfeo” in 1905. Westrup, Malipiero, Benvenuti, van den Borren, Krenek and Redlich eventually offered their own editions up to 1950 (Redlich’s fuses Venice and Naples). And then came the recordings: the pioneering ones by Walter Goehr, Ewerhart, Pritchard (the Leppard condensation). And then the historicists: Curtis, Harnoncourt, Hickox, Jacobs and Gardiner. There’s even a Kraack arrangement conducted by Von Karajan... Buenos Aires has been reasonably advanced in the matter of stage productions. A condensation by D’Indy was conducted by Ansermet in 1927 at the Grand Splendid. At the Colón Tullio Serafin conducted the 1938 performances. I could attend the 1965 revival under Bartoletti, quite musical but not historicist: this came at the hands of René Jacobs in 1996 with an excellent production by Gilbert Deflo and such singers as Anna Caterina Antonacci and Michael Chance; it was a huge success. And now we have this courageous and largely successful endeavor by Buenos Aires Lírica where all concerned except Italian producer Rita de Letteriis were from the South of our continent (Chile, Brazil, Argentina) . It’s not often that I come out of an opera theatre really happy and rather proud of us as a cultural city; this was such an occasion. To my mind the hero of these performances at the Avenida is musical director Juan Manuel Quintana, for indeed conducting is the smaller task in Monteverdi: the basic one is to establish a score that is convincing in historicist terms, and this Quintana has certainly obtained out of his profound knowledge of the musical mores of those early Baroque times, still imbued with late Renaissance features. His results are different from those of Jacobs but equally valuable ; they have the ring of truth. For all we have is a single accompanying instrumental line to the voices, there’s no orchestration. He has scored it for what may be called a continuo orchestra: two violins, two violas, two recorders, two cornetti (wooden trumpets), cello, bass, two archlutes,theorbo, lira da gamba, viola da gamba, organ and two harpsichords. The ensemble is called Febiarmonici and the great majority are Argentine. Their playing was beautiful throughout and it demonstrates that we now have locally enough good historicist artists to tackle the seventeenth century repertoire with authenticity: quite an advancement. In an interesting press conference Quintana explained that “Poppea” isn’t all Monteverdi, that there are pieces in it by his disciple Francesco Cavalli ( remember the 1971 Colón “L’Ormindo”?) and that the lovely final duet is by the little-known Benedetto Ferrari. He has also interspersed instrumental pieces by Sacrati, Cesti and Rosenmueller. Quintana has scored for five parts or voices and he has done it with consummate skill. Blessedly Rita De Letteriis (debut) opted for a Roman-times production, without the gross distortions Buenos Aires Lírica has often inflicted upon us. Abetted by the beautifully designed and realized drops of Santiago Elder (debut) and by the reasonable authencity of Beatriz Di Benedetto’s costumes (debut) and with cunning lighting by Eli Sirlin, the action was natural and spontaneous, though at times it could have had more brio. With the exception of Eugenia Fuente, whose Ottavia though well sung didn’t sound Baroque, all the others were convincingly stylistic. Brazilian Patricia González did a personable and brightly voiced Poppea; Nerone was acted and sung with much intensity by the Chilean mezzo Evelyn Ramírez (debut), whose timbre has much character; Martín Oro was an excellent countertenor Ottone; Marcos Fink, well-known here in oratorio, made an expressive and sensitive Seneca; José Lemos (debut, Chilean countertenor) was a funny parodic Arnalta; and Soledad de la Rosa, though far from the “physique du role”, sang with much charm as Drusilla. Of the others I especially liked Vanessa Mautner as Valletto and the firm bass voices of Walter Schwarz and Sergio Carlevaris. Agreeable, tenor Lucas Werenkraut. No more than acceptable were Jaime Caicompai (Chilean, debut), Laura Ramallo and Pablo Pollitzer. 13/06/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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