lunes, octubre 08, 2007

Two centuries of French opera

In recent weeks French opera has been given pride of place by our opera companies. The genre was born in Italy in 1600 with Peri's "Euridice" (Florence) and soon had a masterpiece to show, Monteverdi's "Orfeo" (Mantova). One of his disciples, Francesco Cavalli, brought opera to France during Mazarin's regency. Soon after, a Florentine, Jean-Baptiste Lully (gallicized) wrote in French for Louis XIV's court and founded the "opéra-ballet", a mixed genre responding to the desires of the King, who was an excellent dancer. During the seventeenth century one composer represented the highest quality of the Rococo period: Jean-Baptiste Rameau. It was he, in his "lyric tragedies", that showed the way to Christoph W. Gluck, the German who had reformed opera with his "Orfeo ed Euridice" premiered in Vienna in 1762 . He adapted that work to the French taste as "Orphée et Eurydice" but he also produced such talented scores as "Armide", "Alceste" and two operas dealing with the same heroine: "Iphigénie en Aulide" and "Iphigénie en Tauride". The latter is probably his best opera and was written in 1779; the Colón presented it with great quality in 1964 with Crespin and in 1994 with Montague.

Marcelo Birman with his Compañía de las Luces has done yeoman work in bringing to our public admirable French operas by Lully ("Armide") and Rameau ("Castor et Pollux"). Last year he offered "Les Danaides" by Salieri (which proved the stature of a maligned composer) and now at the same venue, the Museo de Arte Decorativo, he presented a semistaged "Iphigénie en Tauride" which I don't hesitate to call a triumph. By now the cohesion and technical accomplishment of the orchestra following historicist lines and the intensity and freshness of a committed young choir are a tribute to Birman's talent as a conductor, and his stylish phrasing shows the influence of the specialised studies he did in Paris. His Gluck was urgent and dramatic, with strong attacks and accents. This "Iphigenia" shows the protagonist transported by divine intervention from Aulis, where she was about to be sacrificed by her father, to Tauris (Crimea), where she has to deal with the tyrant Thoas.

Without a stage, mingling with the orchestra, the singers communicated the tragedy through meaningful gesture , and they sang from memory (so did the choir). Ana Moraitis' voice has grown a lot and she made a moving protagonist. Sergio Carlevaris as Orestes was impressive; his voice is huge and he has an authentic dramatic presence. However, he should beware of exaggeration. Pablo Pollitzer (Pylades) on the contrary was small-voiced but very stylish. Alejandro Meerapfel was a forthright Thoas and Ana Santorelli put in relief Diana's intervention. The small parts were in the picture.

To my mind there was no need for a revival (by the Colón at the Coliseo) of Massenet's "Werther", for Buenos Aires Lírica offered it with López Manzitti two seasons ago in a reasonably good staging. Unfortunately the producer Louis Désiré (also stage and costume designer) presented a distorted view of the libretto. The four acts take place in the same black unit set of a big room in trapeze shape, although the first two are supposed to take place outdoors . To mention just a few of the solecisms the audience had to endure: at the beginning we are shown Charlotte's mother in her death bed (she is not a part in the libretto) and seconds later the mourning children sing joyously a Christmas carol prepared by their father the Bailiff; in many places during the course of the opera the singers eavesdrop on each other hearing what according to the words they shouldn't; a child is terrorised by Werther who arbitrarily gives the boy his ideas on death; there's an absolutely gratuitous sex act between Charlotte and Albert, her husband, who moreover is made lame for this production; and at the end a clone actor is dying in Werther's bed whilst the protagonist sings a few paces away. The added projections weren't unpleasant but seemed unnecessary. However, I rather liked the period costumes of Goethe's time.

The singers gamely tried to adapt themselves to such absurd treatment of their roles and Werther was interpreted for the first time in his career by the talented American tenor Jonathan Boyd , who sang Britten last year here. Although a bit uncomfortable in the highest register, the voice is beautiful and poetic, handled with much musicality, and he looks personable. He was the only reason to present "Werther", when there's so much interesting Massenet waiting in the wings for a revival or premiere. His Charlotte was Mariana Rewerski, whose voice took a long time to warm up; she is young, beautiful and a good musician, but her voice lacks a definite color. Graciela Oddone was a nice Sophie and Luciano Garay a competent Albert. Ariel Cazes, Gabriel Renaud and Leonardo Estévez completed honorably the cast.

Very good marks to the Colón's Children's Choir under Valdo Sciammarella and a valuable operatic debut here by conductor Arturo Diemecke, well known through his concerts with the Philharmonic. He showed himself in full command , with a sense of give-and-take with the singers and with an adequate sound from the Colón Orchestra plus an excellent saxophone player. Diemecke showed himself a man of the theatre, which doesn't surprise me for he is quite histrionic as a symphonic conductor.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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