The latest opera offerings in our city won't stay in the memory; however, both had some good points along with negative ones. They were a concert version of Arrigo Boito's "Mefistofele" as second title of the Colón's season at the Coliseo, and an unnecessary though rather enjoyable "Il Trovatore ", Verdi's perennial blood-and-thunder masterpiece, presented at the Avenida by Buenos Aires Lírica to start their season.
Boito was certainly a talented but quirky man, having a double career in literature and music and being disconcertingly uneven in both. Vastly cultured, he was an uneasy mix of Italian and Germanic influences, much as Busoni would be later on. As a musician he is known for one achievement, arguably the most faithful operatic presentation of Goethe's mighty "Faust": "Mefistofele", premiered in
Boito's "Mefistofele" features a Prologue and Epilogue where Mephisto openly defies God but is beaten by angelic choirs : this is music both beautiful and grandiloquent. Otherwise the story deals with the Faust/Margherita romance, but also adds the Sabbath on the
The Colón gave us a splendid show in 1999 with Samuel Ramey; surely there was no need for a revival now, in a concert version; but to make things worse, there was a wholly unwarranted and arbitrary mutilation, the entire Greek Act (and some ballet music), and that surely puts these performances out of court. The reason for the concert version is that the Coliseo stage is too shallow to allow enough movement for a big choir; but the choristers surely felt relieved of the obligation to memorize they have in staged versions.
There was just one reason to hear this "Mefistofele": the Margherita of Virginia Tola, the Argentine soprano enjoying currently an important European career. Although a bit weak in the lower range, her middle and high registers are strong and have character, and she managed to be intense and involved, acting with gestures and her voice. Mikhail Kit, now in his sixties, was last year a dignified and reliable Boris and Pimen in Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov", but this Mephisto needs much more voice and dramatic presence, as well as better Italian; he was correct, but that is hardly a good description of what this Mephisto should be. And decidedly you had to hear Francisco Casanova's Faust closing your eyes; if you opened them his appearance killed all verisimilitude. Vocally he was quite variable, capable of nicely shaded soft singing along with harshly emitted phrases. Elisabeth Canis was rather timid as Martha and Rubén Martínez sang nicely as Wagner.
The Colón Chorus was in the capable hands of Salvatore Caputo, but even with 25 singers added under contract this choir looked and sounded too old . The fresh voices of the Choir Boys under Valdo Sciammarella gave us notice that last year's ridiculous intrusion of an Inspector forbidding children singing during night hours has somehow been conjured. Mario Perusso led Orchestra and choirs with a practiced hand but with less grandeur and polish than in other occasions.
"Il Trovatore" is written for mighty singers and I won't pretend the Buenos Aires Lírica team was quite that, but somehow the result was better than the sum of the individual parts. Two artists were notable: Carlos Esquivel as a firm and noble Ferrando, and Alejandra Malvino as a passionate Azucena of undeniable power and conviction, even with some exaggerations. Chilean tenor José Azócar sang only one stanza of "Di quella pira"; in his forties, this Manrico was musically reliable but no more; and he's a wooden actor. Ukrainian soprano Svetlana Volosenko took considerable time to warm up and it was only after the first half that her voice got some of the true Verdian color. Omar Carrión was his usual small-scaled , sensitive self as Luna, a role that needs more expansion and sheer punch. Vanesa Tomas and Arnaldo Quiroga were acceptable. The Choir was young and vital under Juan Casabellas , and the Orchestra sounded dynamic and strong in Carlos Vieu's talented hands.
Marcelo Perusso's staging respected time and place and managed to be convincing dramatically, apart from some silent movie gestures. His stage designs were based on two towers on wheels placed differently in each scene. And the characters were adequately clothed (also by Perusso). Rubén Conde was the competent lighting designer.
Para el Buenos Aires Herald