martes, agosto 14, 2007

Wagner and zarzuela: the amazing range of the lyric theatre

Our two main private opera companies proceeded with their seasons at the Avenida with as opposite a pair of creations as can be imagined. Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) took a giant step by offering a Wagner opera for the first time in their trajectory, whilst Juventus Lyrica incorporated a zarzuela, also a first for them. In their very different ways, both ventures fell on the positive side. BAL chose well, for "Der fliegende Hollaender" ("The Flying Dutchman") is more amenable to the resources of the company than any other of the ten Wagnerian mature works . It was a bold step and it proved a successful one. Juventus , on the other hand, offered Amadeo Vives' "Dona Francisquita", following the vote of their subscribers ; by accepting the majority view in three of their four 2007 choices Juventus has relinquished the right of the artistic direction to define a repertoire, and I can't agree. An enlightened programming policy can never be based on polls. Nevertheless, the zarzuela was agreeably served and I spent a pleasant night, though not a stimulating one.

"The Flying Dutchman" (1843) is a Romantic opera in which Richard Wagner transcends the influences of Weber ("Der Freischuetz") and Marschner ("Hans Heiling") and finds a style of his own. It is amazingly advanced in some parts ( the Dutchman's monologue, the Choir of the damned sailors) but is also conventionally melodic in the steps trodden by such German composers as Lortzing or Kreutzer , incorporating folksy and straightforward tunes on the choruses of Norwegian sailors and weavers.

I was among those who disagreed strongly with the Colón's production by Suárez Marzal on the Kuitca settings, so I longed for a return to sane concepts and good tradition. I do have some reservations, but the BAL staging had some relevant points. It was the work of an artist who made his local debut on this occasion: Fabian Von Matt, who studied here and in Vienna, and has been assistant producer in the Luebeck "Ring". He solved well the apparition of the phantom ship (effective red lights from Eli Sirlin) and he understood the psychology of the main characters. However, he introduced an extraneous element , an Angel, who intrudes at various instances and is instrumental in the redemptive close ; but even with the charming appearance of actress María José Iglesias, it felt superfluous. There were wrong details, such as giving poor Erik, a hunter, the black sleeves of an office boy. The Norwegian setting was respected, though transposed to the early 20th century . The settings by Pilar Camps (apart from the damned ship) were rather poor, especially the panels with waves. Sofía Di Nunzio's clothes were mostly adequate, although I found not only Erik's sleeves wrong but also the Dutchman's attire didn't feel right. In Von Matt's work the final minutes were the weakest.

The musical side was quite strong. Homero Pérez –Miranda (a Cuban living in Chile) was a properly saturnine and haunted Dutchman, singing firmly (although lacking weight in low notes) and projecting the words with dramatic sense. Mónica Ferracani, an attractive blonde tall Argentine soprano with an important trajectory, was an impressive Senta, musically sound and sung with generous voice; it is her first Wagner and she surmounted with ease the challenge. Perfect is the word for Hernán Iturralde as Daland the mariner: his years at Stuttgart surely tell in the quality of his style and the voice is exactly the needed type. The others were some cuts below: Enrique Folger as an overheated Erik, Marta Cullerés with a frayed voice though used with authority, and Santiago Burgi on the other hand ingratiating bur rather green as the Steersman. The Choirs under Juan Casasbellas gradually found their feet (it didn't help that they were constantly knocked about by the producer); they were enthusiastic but raw. The Orchestra under Guillermo Brizzio's knowledgeable conducting was disciplined and correct, though the pit is much too small for the Wagnerian orchestra and the brass felt stifled.

"Dona Francisquita" is one of the two most often staged "zarzuelas grandes" (the other is, of course, "Luisa Fernanda" by Moreno Torroba). It is certainly the best work of Amadeo Vives. Written in 1923, it comes from the last brilliant period of the genre, the Spanish form of operetta. There are popular touches incorporating the "rondalla", an instrumental group based on guitars; a bad mistake of the production was to mime them on the stage whilst the sound came from the pit. But the staging by Oscar Barney Finn was pleasant and it boasted nice stage settings by Emilio Basaldúa, a tasteful orgy of decorative fans. Mini Zuccheri designed agreeable period costumes.

There were two casts, I saw the first. Fabiola Masino was too mincing and strident in the title role, though professional; Gerardo Marandino sang with some beauty and was well abetted by Pablo Skrt as his sidekick Cardona. Susanna Moncayo as Aurora combined uneasily operatic and popular voice projection. Good work from Alberto Jáuregui Lorda and Marta Cullerés as the aging couple and some young voices were heard to advantage in bit parts (Sebastián Russo, Iván Maier). The Choir under Miguel Pesce was in the picture, the dance led by José Zartmann with Mabel Espert was convincing and the orchestral side was well attended to by conductor Susana Frangi.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald